Blood flow restriction (BFR) is a technique used across the country and world to increase strength in patients who have had surgery, an injury, or are in pain. Our therapist, Madeleine Hines, PT, DPT, is now certified in personalized blood flow restriction rehabilitation, and BFR is now available at Girl Fit to all of our patients who need it.
Blood flow restriction is a technique that uses a tourniquet to mimic the environment your muscles experience during high intensity exercise with low resistance or weights. Research has shown that to build strength in the muscles, you need to lift more than 65% of your one rep max (the most amount of weight you can do in one full repetition). Many people who need to build strength are not able to do this. Some people have too much pain to tolerate that amount of resistance. Other patients may have had an injury or a surgery, such as ACL reconstruction, MPFL reconstruction, or meniscus repair, and lifting higher weights may not be advised at that point in their rehab. That is where BFR comes in! By restricting the amount of blood going to the muscles, the exercise can yield the same results with much lower resistance.
When exercising with BFR, a tourniquet that looks like a blood pressure cuff will be applied to either your upper arm or upper leg. The cuff will go over a sock-like covering that protects your skin. The machine will then take a measurement of how much pressure is right for your limb, and calculate the lowest amount of pressure that will have an effect. Research has shown about 80% of limb occlusion pressure (the amount of pressure it takes to restrict blood flow) is the best for the legs and 50% is best for the arms. The machine will then restrict the tourniquet to the exact amount of pressure you need and maintain that pressure while you do your regular exercises. These exercises could include squats, band walks, straight leg raises, calf raises, bicep curls – whatever needs strengthening! In between sets, the cuff will maintain pressure, but after each exercise the cuff will deflate fully. You will typically do between 3 and 5 exercises with the cuff, because it is quite fatiguing for the muscles.
Blood flow restriction has been shown to help in many ways, including:
Yes! Blood flow restriction has been researched extensively, and is used around the country with many different types of people. Research has not found any increased risk for blood clotting or tissue breakdown with BFR. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up with any exercise, including with BFR, but they do not change as much as they would with high intensity exercise. If a doctor has told you to monitor your heart rate or blood pressure, checking with them before trying BRF is a good idea. There are also certain medical conditions and medications that would make it unsafe to use BFR, so make sure to give your therapist a thorough medical history.
No two bodies are the same, so making sure you use the right amount of pressure for the limb increases safety, which is why each time BFR is used at Girl Fit, we will take a measurement of your personal limb occlusion pressure before starting the exercises. We also will protect your skin with a sleeve that has been shown to reduce likelihood of issues with pressure. The cuff will also only ever go on your upper arm and upper leg, never over a joint or nerve that could be irritated by the pressure.
If your doctor has encouraged you to get blood flow restriction after an injury or surgery or if you think this technique might help you in your rehabilitation journey, make an appointment with a physical therapist at Girl Fit in Newton by calling us at 617-618-9290 or emailing us at email@example.com.
Madeleine Hines, PT, DPT
Follow us on Instagram @girlfitrocks