BLOOD FLOW RESTRICTION THERAPY
It’s our greatest priority to work with our clients on their rehabilitation in a way that’s right for them, which is why Blood Flow Restriction Therapy (BFRT) is an obvious choice at MOTUS Specialists Physical Therapy. This innovative, evidence-based technique provides a way for patients with exercise restrictions to achieve quicker strengthening and recovery.
MOTUS uses equipment and training from Owens Recovery Science, experts in BFRT. Their techniques have taught us how to be most effective with this therapy, allowing us to implement this science for a better, more efficient healing process for our patients.
What is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?
In short, BFRT is a way to avoid the demands of a normal strength training method by instead producing significant gains with the use of a tourniquet to restrict blood flow. To achieve results with regular strength training, a person has to follow fairly rigorous guidelines for the amount of weight they lift and the number of repetitions they do. However, patients who are recovering from an injury or surgery, or who are otherwise limited in their ability to lift, often have trouble meeting the performance requirements needed to get good results.
Thankfully, the revolutionary BFRT technique can be put to use in athletic or clinical settings to produce similar results with much lower weights. This makes the recovery process more accessible to those with physical setbacks. BFRT offers a less stressful and challenging way to recover, strengthen, and avoid muscle atrophy.
There are many case studies that have backed up the effectiveness of BFRT with evidence, such as one done in 2015 by Hylden C et. al.1 which looked at seven patients with “lower extremity injuries” and “chronic quadriceps and hamstring weakness.” These patients had been treated with traditional therapy but were still having trouble with rehabilitation. After two weeks of BFRT, they found that all seven patients showed improvements, and concluded that BFRT is effective for “patients who are unable to perform high-resistance exercise or patients who have persistent extremity weakness despite traditional therapy.”
How Does Blood Flow Restriction Work?
BFRT uses compression to create hypertrophy, the enlargement of a muscle. Hypertrophy is what causes muscle definition and toning. It increases the strength of a muscle, and helps it word towards being able to take on heavier loads.
In a BFRT session, a patient will wear a pressure tourniquet around the extremity of the targeted location. According to “Blood Flow Restriction Exercise: Considerations of Methodology, Application, and Safety” by Stephen D. Patterson et. al.2, the venous blood flow—which is the blood flowing towards the heart—should be fully restricted, but the arterial flow—blood flowing from the heart toward the extremity—should only be partially restricted. The review article also explains that the amount of pressure needed to decrease the blood flow to the targeted area will vary from person to person. Your experienced guide in BFRT will know how to set the levels correctly to get you the best results. Once the tourniquet cuff is in place, the patient will work out under the guidance of their professional guide, such as a trainer or a physical therapist. Exercises generally include a high number of repetitions with a very light weight. The number of repetitions and the frequency of the workout will depend on the program that’s designed specially for the patient by the trainer. However, as Stephen D. Patterson et. al. point out, it’s common to see “75 repetitions across four sets of exercises.”
The exercises together with the compression create the results of heavy lifting without the high demands that could potentially injure a more vulnerable patient.
Benefits of Blood Flow Restriction
Perhaps the biggest benefit of BFRT is that it provides a safe and comfortable path to recovery for patients who are struggling with other rehabilitation methods. As mentioned before, BFRT is more accessible than traditional weight training, and as such it can be useful for patients that recently had upper or lower extremity surgeries.
BFRT is also used to reduce or recover from muscle atrophy after some period of disuse. A 2008 study by Kubota et. al.3 compared the effects of BFRT with isometric exercise as treatment for muscle atrophy after two weeks of immobilizations. Participants were asked to wear a cast on their ankle and walk using crutches for the duration of the two weeks, after which they were divided into a BFRT group, an isometric exercise group, and a control group. Kubota et. al. found that BFRT protected against the decrease in muscle strength that was shown in the isometric exercise group and the control group. They concluded that “repetitive restriction of blood flow to the lower extremity prevents muscular weakness induced by chronic unloading.”
Who Can Benefit From Blood Flow Restriction?
Anyone who is limited in their ability to perform exercise can benefit from BFRT. This includes athletes or non-athletes who are recovering from an injury; post-operative patients who are working on regaining strength in their muscles; those recovering from an achilles tendon rupture, an ACL repair, or joint arthroplasties; and patients with osteoarthritis.
Anyone seeking to build strength and finding it hard to do so by traditional weightlifting and training methods will likely see great results from BFRT.
Is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Safe?
Many studies have been done on the effectiveness and safety of BFRT. Research has shown that this tool is safe as well as comfortable for patients, as long as the therapy is being done under the guidance of a trained professional.
In a 2018 article discussing the process of BFRT, Jessee et. al.4 point out that “cuff type, cuff width, and limb circumference can all influence the restrictive stimulus,” and that to “ensure a similar, safe stimulus all variables should be accounted for.” As long as you are working with a trusted professional—like the team at MOTUS—you can be certain that your BFRT will be safe, comfortable, and effective.
1. Hylden C et. al., Blood flow restriction rehabilitation for extremity weakness: a case series.
2. Stephen D. Patterson et. al., Blood Flow Restriction Exercise: Considerations of Methodology, Application, and Safety
3. Kubota et. al., Prevention of Disuse Muscular Weakness by Restriction of Blood Flow
4. Jessee, Matthew B. et. al., Mechanisms of Blood Flow Restriction: The New Testament