Written by Jessica Wenzlaff, PT DPT
One of the various treatment options offered at Sport & Spine Physical Therapy is Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFRT). BFRT is one of the best, evidence-supported treatment options in the field and we are thrilled to offer it to our patients in Winona! There are loads of benefits with BFRT but first, let’s take a look at what it is.
WHAT IS IT:
BFRT uses extremely light resistance while benefiting from the same increases in strength as lifting at higher intensities with heavy weight! Functionally, the use of a tourniquet (similar to a blood pressure cuff) is placed on the limb to restrict the blood flow amount going to and from said limb. Scientifically speaking, BFRT reduces the amount of oxygenated blood reaching a working muscle to trick your body into thinking it’s working at a higher intensity than it actually is.
Our body has two ways of getting stronger: lifting heavy weights and chemically gaining strength. Lifting heavy weights creates muscle breakdown (a normal process) which encourages muscle rebuilding, increasing our strength. This is a great method when the body isn’t suffering from injury or fatigue. But when it is, the chemical way of gaining strength is a great, safe practice. BFRT plays into the chemical process of getting stronger. When lifting weights (both light and heavy), a chemical process occurs building strength in muscles. Essentially, BFRT is a true bio-hack that allows people to work at loads that are non-stressful on the tissue but still gain improved strength.
Just like every other technique in the world of physical therapy, blood flow restriction training has to be used appropriately, and with the right people. Below are three of the most common situations we use BFRT with and how they benefit from it:
Post-Injury/Surgery: any and all ages and severities
Muscle breakdown (atrophy) happens incredibly fast after injury or surgery. For example, when injured or restricted from putting any weight through one of your legs, you could lose up to 30% of muscle mass in as little as two weeks in that one leg!
This is obviously problematic and dramatically slows recovery from an injury or surgery. However, with BFRT we now have the ability to prevent that significant muscle loss because we are able to use low intensity and light resistance levels that are safe and tolerable to the patient to get the same increase in muscle strength as lifting at heavy loads.
A great example of just how beneficial BFRT can be for patients rehabbing from surgery is a recent Sport & Spine PT graduate. She had surgery after tearing her ACL. She initially had a difficult time regaining strength in her leg, but then began using BFRT with her therapist. Not only was she able to get back the full strength she had prior to her injury, but was able to return to performing single leg squats! This patient continuously impressed the whole clinic with her strength and it was all because of her hard work and using BFRT during her rehab.
Sport Performance: athletes current and retired
BFRT has shown numerous benefits to enhancing sports performance, but the most researched is the ability for athletes to maintain muscle size and strength without the dip in performance caused by muscle soreness. This is possible because there is no muscle tissue breakdown associated with BFRT since the intensity is kept so low. This is a great way for weight lifters, runners, and in-season athletes to complement their current training programs without worrying about over-training.
Recovery: exercise, fatigue, etc.
Imagine this: you’re training for an upcoming race and starting to feel a little beaten up from the increased volume; or you’re gassed trying to prepare for a CrossFit competition; or maybe you’re midseason in soccer and have been trying to push through some nagging issues.
Now, imagine on your recovery day you walked for just 15 minutes, at a pace well below a typical recovery pace, while still boosting the endurance capacity of your muscles AND letting your muscle recover.
Sounds pretty cool, right? We have athletes at our clinic take advantage of the performance gains BFRT can give their performance on their rest day. Rehab, performance, and recovery covers a vast majority of the population, BUT Blood Flow Restriction Training still might not be the best fit for everyone. And that’s okay! One of our Doctors of Physical Therapy will perform an assessment to see if it is right for YOU. If it’s not, we use one of our many treatment options to help you work through an injury or achieve your performance goals. Give us a call at 507-474-6900.
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