(Educational content provided by Sian from Raynersmale.com.) Blood flow restriction training, or BFR, is an emerging hot topic in Physiotherapy rehabilitation. Although it has been around since the 60’s, it really only came to the United States in 2014. Since that time there has been an explosion in research looking into its properties and clinical application. BFR combines low intensity exercises with blood flow restriction using a medical grade tourniquet to create strength and hypertrophy changes, increased bone density and increased aerobic capacity in the tissues. It is starting to gain a lot more popularity in the clinical world as the research accumulates supporting the use of BFR with low intensity exercise in patients where high intensity exercise may not be suitable/restricted such as osteoporosis, menopause, post-operative, tendon dysrepair, and the elderly (Loenneke, et al., 2012). In 2018, the APTA determined that the use of BFR therapy is part of the professional scope of practice for Physical Therapy.
Our understanding of BFR has evolved significantly and Physiotherapists can now offer patient centered treatment programs using occlusion pressures and exercise prescription. By occluding venous blood flow and reducing arterial blood blow, your muscles will receive less oxygen and during the exercises there will be a switch from using type I to type II muscle fibers. Using BFR we are able to create the same metabolic stress in the tissues that occurs during high intensity strength training. These cellular changes result in adaptations to muscle strength without the associated muscle damage that is caused by high intensity resistance training. BRF has a time and place in the rehab journey, especially when high intensity training can’t be achieved (Bradner, et al., 2019).
Compared to exercise without cuffs, the cuffs are slightly more uncomfortable, but they do not interrupt the exercises/movements. With BFR, we were able to achieve fatigue with exercises such as the active straight leg raise or isometric quad sets which matched his initial strength level and there was no discomfort reported the following day.
Most of our patients notice an immediate difference after use of the cuffs, whether it is pain improvement, increased range of motion, or a better muscle activation.
With the correct patient selection, the right exercise prescription and careful individual assessment – we can safely begin strength training with low load exercises that wouldn’t typically result in strength gains.
Try physio with us and inquire about blood flow restriction training and whether it is appropriate for you!
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