Blood Flow Restriction

Dr. Ryan Abarno is blogging with us again today to discuss Blood Flow Restriction Training.. What is it? Why you should use it? and is it safe? He will answer all of these questions and more. Hope you Enjoy. Karen S Shuler PT, DPT

What if I told you that you could maintain or even build muscle with 10 minutes of exercise or less? What if I also told you that you wouldn’t have to lift heavy weights to do so? You probably would think that I was some infomercial salesman, pitching just another item or plan to get in shape quickly (I know that I think that whenever someone says something too good to be true). Well I am going to tell you that those first two statements are possible. The answer to how that is possible is Blood Flow Restriction Training or BFR.

So what is blood flow restriction training?

It’s the application of pressure to a targeted muscle group via cuffs or bands to reduce how much blood is being transported to and from that muscle group. The key word here being reduce, not completely stop. By restricting the blood flow, we impact the amount of oxygen being transported to the muscles. Our muscles are made up of different muscle fiber types, each of which requires differing amounts of oxygen. Due to this deprivation of oxygen, the muscles get fatigued much quicker than usual. The feeling of being fatigued or “the burn”, as some people refer to it, is the buildup of lactate and other metabolic byproducts. This along with other factors help set the stage for muscle growth, known as muscle hypertrophy, to occur.

This reduction of blood flow also forces even the largest muscle fibers to start working despite the fact that the exercises used for BFR are very easy when BFR is not being applied. We essentially have “tricked” the body into thinking we are lifting something much heavier.

So why do BFR instead of lifting heavy weights?

            Lifting weight to get stronger is a great tool but there are times where lifting heavy just isn’t an option. BFR allows people who recently had surgery to maintain or build muscle without compromising the post-operative recovery. For those who are dealing with acute or chronic aches and pains, BFR provides an opportunity to build muscle without taking on the strain of heavier lifting thus reducing the chance of flaring up any symptoms. It can even be useful for people without pain, and instead just want to back off some heavier training but wish to not lose any progress they have made.

Is it safe?

As with any form of exercise, there’s always a risk but steps are taken to minimize this. Patients are screened for any health conditions that would exclude them from participating in BFR. In the clinic, we use pneumatic cuffs placed only on the thigh or upper arm as there is a significant amount of muscle here to protect the blood vessels and nerves. The cuffs are inflated to a specific pressure that is based on a protocol but individualized for each patient. A doppler ultrasound is also used to ensure that the pressures used still allow for blood flow into the muscle because as mentioned before, we only want to restrict blood flow, not completely cut it off. The application of the cuffs can be uncomfortable but tolerable. The discomfort will dissipate as soon as the cuffs are removed.

How long does it take to work?

This is the beauty of blood flow restriction training. It typically takes 6-8 weeks to first start building muscle. With BFR, studies have shown that this initiation of muscle growth happens in 4 weeks or less. This doesn’t mean the effects stop here either. As long as you continue to exercise appropriately with or without BFR, the muscle building continues.

To sum it all up

Blood flow restriction training provides an effective way to build muscle safely and quickly. Just make sure that you seek the help of a physical therapist trained in BFR to ensure that it is being done correctly.

Have more questions or want to see BFR in action? Use our Book an Appointment button, call ,or text the office at 803-831-1454 to schedule an in person physical therapy appointment. Our Front desk is ready to help and guide you through the process.

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