October 21, 2019

What is blood flow restriction therapy?

Exercise | Non-operative Care


Blood flow restriction training (BFR) partially restricts blood flow to muscles during low intensity exercise to increase muscle strength. BFR is used in physical therapy at OrthoIndy without any additional cost. BFR is conducted at all OrthoIndy outpatient therapy locations and is done by physical and occupational therapists who are trained to help patients with BFR.

“Any patient who is attending therapy, has limited muscle strength, present atrophy or is at risk for developing atrophy is appropriate for BFR,” said Jeff Sorg, Director of OrthoIndy Physical Therapy. “The exercises utilized in therapy are essentially the same. However, with the application of BFR, the gains in strength and muscle size far exceed what we’ve seen with traditional exercise programs used in therapy.”

Does blood flow restriction training work?

Blood flow restriction therapy (BFR) strengthens muscles and prevents atrophy. Cuffs that restrict veins but allow partial arterial blood flow are placed on arms or legs during low-intensity exercises. The result is effectively gaining muscle strength and size without putting stress on joints or soft tissue.

“In the United States, BFR had its roots in rehab and was utilized by the military for soldiers with pretty severe traumatic injuries,” said Jeff. “The results they were able to achieve were so remarkable that BFR has spread pretty rapidly into more traditional rehab settings. BFR has also spread into the fitness industry and is becoming more mainstream.”

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Is BFR training dangerous?

BFR involves safely restricting partial blood flow during exercise. It is safer than high-intensity exercises that involve heavy loads and place considerable strain on muscles and joints.

“BFR works through the application of pneumatic cuffs applied to either the arms or legs and are then inflated,” said Jeff. “The cuffs are also elastic, so they never fully stop the flow of blood. By decreasing blood flow during exercise activity and decreasing the oxygen supply to the muscles, they fatigue much quicker with low loads applied. This mechanism allows the body and muscles to react how they would normally react when lifting heavier weights; so similar gains in strength and muscle mass are the end result with use of BFR.”

Other benefits of BFR include:

  • Preventing atrophy and muscle loss after surgery
  • Reducing recovery time after an injury
  • Stimulating natural healing properties in the body

BFR is safe for patients beginning rehabilitation after surgery. This is because blood flow is never completely stopped, and the limb’s range of motion is not limited.

While BFR is safe, there are some conditions that disqualify you from BFR training. These conditions include:

  • Severe high blood pressure
  • Blood clotting disorder
  • Active cancer
  • Impaired circulation
  • Lymphectomies
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Open fracture
  • Pregnancy

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Blood flow restriction training physical therapy

The strength you have going into BFR training will determine how many treatments you need. If there is already some muscle wasting from an injury, more treatments may be advised. The number of treatments is decided by you, your tolerance and your physical therapist.

After treatment, it’s normal to have some muscle fatigue and soreness. The soreness usually lasts 24 to 48 hours after your session. Drinking more water, stretching and applying ice or heat on sore areas will help with soreness. You don’t have to avoid any specific activities after BFR.

“The average number of treatments it takes to see results is variable,” said Jeff. “It is determined by the starting point and how much weakness and atrophy is present at the beginning of therapy. BFR is safe, effective and is also being used in the realm of strength, conditioning and sports performance. It can continue to be utilized throughout the rehab process and even beyond. Our physical therapists are able to help our patients utilize BFR in rehab and can also recommend continued use if they feel that is something that could have long-term benefits for each individual.”

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000


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