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BLOOD FLOW RESTRICTION THERAPY: Taking Muscles to Failure can cause Increased Structural Damage.

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Blood flow restriction therapy (BFRT) is becoming a popular treatment option for many rehabilitation professionals, such as physical therapists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and personal trainers. BFRT is the brief, intermittent blockage of venous and arterial blood flow, achieved by applying a tourniquet to the upper or lower extremity. The restriction results in physiological changes that mimic the changes of participating in higher intensity exercises.

The question is, are we doing enough in the rehabilitation setting to cause strength gain and hypertrophy, or are we just recruiting more motor units?

We are often under the assumption that submaximal training (using light dumbbells or resistance tubing) is restoring strength and function in our patients.

Lighter loads can stimulate muscle growth, but only if our patients work these muscles to fatigue/failure. We also know that taking muscles to failure can cause increased structural damage.

Many patients are post-injury or post-surgical, and their injured tissue may not handle the increased load and demand required to improve strength and hypertrophy, thus causing more injury and pain.

While in the rehabilitation setting, health care professionals follow traditional protocols like rest and immobilization that allow for proper tissue healing times.

However, adding this delay of introducing strength training with limitations brought on by insurance companies forces us to get patients to their prior level of function faster than ever before.

BFRT is the bridge between low load, resistance training, and high interval intensity training (HIIT).

It allows us to load injured tissue appropriately to improve strength and hypertrophy without increased risk of increasing pain or delaying tissue healing. BFRT effectively tricks the brain and body into thinking it’s performing high-intensity exercise while only performing submaximal training.

The benefits of BFRT: effective in increasing #strength, attenuating atrophy, creating #hypertrophy, aiding recovery, and improving cardiovascular function. Whether used in rehabilitation, fitness, performance training, or recovery, BFRT is a proven safe, effective, and portable solution for people of all ability levels and goals.



Brady Harre, PT, DPT is the facility manager at Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists in Holt.

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