Blood-Flow Restriction

April 29th, 2019

Blood Flow Restriction rehabilitation, or BFR, is a hot topic in the physical therapy treatment world right now.  Even though it has been around since the 1960s, there has recently been a surge in BFR research that supports how this technique can improve patient outcomes; specifically, because of its success with military personnel.  We are excited to offer BFR to our patients at HealthQuest Physical Therapy!  It is a great tool your physical therapist might use in your treatment.  Below you can read more about it, but keep in mind that your physical therapist will evaluate you and know if it’s best for your specific case.

What is Blood-flow restriction?

BFR uses a FDA-approved surgical tourniquet system that looks very similar to a blood pressure cuff. The system is placed on an injured arm or leg to periodically reduce blood flow to the limb while the patient performs specific exercises.  By decreasing the blood flow to the working muscles, it promotes hypertrophy and prevents atrophy in the muscles.  Limiting blood flow to the muscles (a process called occlusion) allows the patient to work the muscles without placing excessive weight on the limb. The compression devices apply pressure high enough to occlude 50-80% of blood flow to the muscles we wish to affect.  The use of BFR can vary throughout treatment.

How Does This Work?

In a nutshell, exercising with lighter weights while using blood flow restriction causes a local disturbance of homeostasis, as the working muscle does not receive blood flow to sustain contractions. This creates a release of autonomic and anabolic hormones that move throughout the body.  This systemic response augments the local response, causing increased protein synthesis. Because little damage is done to the soft tissue by avoiding heavy weight lifting, improvements in strength and endurance can come quickly. All tissues both proximal and distal to the blood flow restriction bands can benefit from these effects.

Who Benefits from BFR?

BFR can safely be used on patients in the acute phase of rehabilitation following most upper or lower enough extremity surgeries, including ACL reconstruction, meniscectomy, hip/knee replacement, rotator cuff repair or any tendon repair.  Research has shown BFR can minimize loss of muscle mass and decrease bony healing time during the early immobilization phases, allowing patients to improve both muscle size and strength without the stress of heavy lifting on healing soft tissue. Patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteopenia or osteoporosis may also benefit from BFR. Additionally, BFR has been utilized after strokes or spinal cord injuries and with athletes who want to improve performance.

Is BFR Safe?

Research published by the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) has shown that BFR is not only comfortable for the patient but also safe and effective when exercises are performed appropriately and when equipment is monitored by a trained blood flow restriction professional. This service is now available to be performed by trained clinicians at select HealthQuest locations (currently only offered in West Bloomfield). If you are interested in learning more about BFR, click the button below to request an appointment.

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