Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a technique that uses a cuff to restrict venous blood flow, while continuing to allow arterial flow to produce significant muscle strength gains. BFR training has been employed in recent years with growing popularity due to the significant improvements in strength that can be made; especially when used with certain populations that have some difficulty performing high load exercises that are traditionally used to build strength.
In high load exercise training, it is recommended that one is training at weight that can near 80% of the one repetition max (the highest amount of weight that can be lifted one time.) This high load is then performed with relative low repetitions in multiple sets to achieve muscle growth and improvements in strength and function. For many people this is a reasonable approach and works well to foster strength, however there are groups where the use of a high load is not as feasible due to pain or weakness amongst other reasons.
The alternative for those groups where using a high load is not possible is to usually reduce the load to such a degree that the exercise can be performed with increased repetitions, however this is not the most effective manner at eliciting muscle growth and often will not produce the same improvements in strength and ultimately functional performance. BFR can act to fill in the gap by creating conditions for muscle growth that can produce results that are more similar to that which is achieved in the traditional high load training without the use of the heavy load.
BFR training differs from traditional high load, low rep strength training in that it uses a very low load with a high number of repetitions over a few sets to produce similar strength improvements. This use of a lower load can be particularly useful in certain populations, particularly in an orthopedic physical therapy setting treating those following an acute injury, post-op, or those suffering with muscle loss due to normal aging factors. In these groups there can be one or multiple factors that make using a high load less ideal, such as pain levels, weakness, limited range of motion or a combination of all three. The implementation of BFR training in these groups could potentially allow for greater strength gains than would not have been possible without BFR training and ultimately improve functional outcomes and performance at the end of treatment.
BFR training offers an exciting new tool to further help promote and improve the function of patients and to help them return to their desired outcomes sooner, and hopefully stronger than possible without it. We use BFR at Rose Physical Therapy offices in Washington, DC to help our clients return from injury quicker than ever before. If you are interested in speeding up your recovery with BFR, reach out to our offices at Navy Yard and Capitol Hill, or at Dupont Circle and Farragut Square in downtown DC. All of Rose physical therapists are skilled in use of BFR so no matter which PT you see, you can have access to this special tool in your own recovery.