What Is Blood Flow Restriction and Is It Safe?

Apr 17, 2019

Renee Lambeth

by Renee Lambeth
PTA | Arrowhead Location

There is a lot of talk about a newer treatment being utilized in strengthening and in rehab settings called Blood Flow Restriction (BFR). Essentially, BFR is taking a device such as a cuff or wrap and placing it around a limb to occlude partial blood blow to the affected area. When placing the cuff around the limb, blood flow is restricted by limiting arterial flow and venous return. By restricting the blood flow, higher levels of metabolic stress is created. Both metabolic stress and mechanical tension are associated with increased muscle growth. Because BFR can create this metabolic stress, exercises can be performed with low-load resistance training and achieve the same if not better results than traditional strength training.
For many patients, performing high intensity workouts is not an option.
Significant atrophy of muscle or injury can prevent people from loading joints and muscles without pain or risk of re-injury. Traditionally, patients coming into post-operative physical therapy are limited and unable to strengthen muscles for several weeks during the initial healing phase. BFR allows the physical therapist to strengthen a limb or joint without the risk of injury. BFR also has systemic effects which means with the use of BFR, a patient can achieve global gains in strength which can be important for patients who are deconditioned in more than one area. Another benefit of BFR is its ability to accelerate bone healing. Bone will adapt to the load which is placed on it. The external forces the BFR creates can help improve bone density and its ability to regenerate after injury when used correctly.
Rest assured blood flow restriction is safe when used properly.
Initially, many patients are a little skeptical of the safety of BFR. Every patient in our clinic is assessed for their appropriate level of restriction. Limb occlusion pressure is taken using a specialized doppler which allows the physical therapist to determine exactly when full blood flow occlusion is been attained and treatment is determined thereafter. BFR also does not cause blood clots. In fact, many case studies conclude that BFR can produce the release of anti-coagulating hormones when the cuff is released. BFR is not recommended for patients with uncontrolled blood pressure. However, if blood pressure is controlled, BFR has been shown to cause less stress on the cardiovascular system compared to high intensity training and weight lifting.
BFR can be used in a variety of ways and adapted to patients’ tolerance to improve outcomes in therapy as well as accelerate the healing progress. So who can benefit most from BFR? It is safe to use on most patients. BFR can be used on elderly, post-operative patients, athletes, patients with co-morbidities and most people who want to see faster, more effective results in strengthening. It is recommended to use blood flow restrictions under the guidance of a practitioner as exact limb occlusion pressure will be assessed with each individual patient. A detailed exercise programs will also be designed for the patient to ensure the most effective outcomes.
If you are coming out of surgery and/or looking to increase muscle growth due to atrophy and think BFR is right for you, schedule your free Rapid Recovery® Injury Assessment and our physical therapists can determine the right cause of action for you.

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