Blood Flow Restriction Therapy

ASo, Blood Flow Restriction – sounds weird, right? Maybe painful and even a bit perverse! So, how does it work and why do we think it is worth integrating into your exercise regime?

Why are we excited?

The topic of Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training is one that is new and exciting for therapists such as ourselves. At 6S PHYSIO, we have been watching this space for about 10 years.  We have been applying this approach with great success for a wide variety of clinical cases.  And we have been using it ourselves as a variation in our fitness training, with great effect.  Since starting our BFR For KNEES program, we’ve come to appreciate even more what a powerful tool BFR is!

Around 10 years ago a young exercise physiologist named Brendan Scott was doing his university clinical placement at our clinic in Mingara Recreation Club on the Central Coast of NSW in Australia. Flash forward a decade and he is now Doctor Brendan Scott and is one of the world’s leading authorities in BFR.  And in the intervening years 6S PHYSIO has become the first Physio practice in Australia to do formal training in BFR. So we’d like to think we are experienced and up to date with Blood Flow Restriction training.

We are certainly the first to offer BFR group sessions for people with common problems like Osteoarthritis of the knees. We are very proud to be leaders in this incredible area of treatment, and proud to be BFR Central Coast therapists!

Origins of BFR

It all started in Japan several decades ago.  A young boy was observing how sitting in his temple caused the blood flow in his legs to be disrupted. This interest grew and led Dr Yoshiaki Sato to research Blood Flow Restriction.  He studied its effect on strength and muscle growth, and he developed a system called Kaatsu.  This initially involved using elastic straps applied to the upper arms or upper thighs to reduce the flow of blood to the limb.

Over the next few decades his initial research resulted in the development of specialised inflatable cuffs (like blood pressure cuffs).  These can be used to firstly work out the exact amount of pressure required to fully stop (or occlude) blood flow to that limb.  They can then be used to apply individualised pressures that allow some blood flow into the limb but none of the blood to flow out.

How does it work?

Research is ongoing but it’s now well established that exercising using light loads under these conditions builds muscle and strength.  The changes in pressure, oxygen levels, and concentration of waste products triggers the body’s nervous system and hormonal system to behave as if heavy loads had been lifted.

So, essentially, we can exercise with light weights and – with carefully calculated BFR – we will respond as if we had done a heavy weight workout!

This has huge implications for both the clinical population and for sporting populations.

Clinical Applications of BFR

People who are have:

  • fractures
  • severe sprains
  • tendon injuries
  • osteoarthritis
  • osteoporosis
  • surgical procedures
    • ACL reconstruction (BFR for ACL rehab is becoming huge!
    • TKR (Total Knee Replacement)
    • shoulder recontruction
  • any condition where heavy loading is not tolerated, but strengthening is required
  • any condition where there is risk of atrophy (muscle loss)

BFR Application in the healthy population

Athletes who want to keep up their strength and muscle mass without lifting heavy weight every session, can do so and recover faster. Seniors get the benefits of heavy training without stressing less-tolerant joints.

Interestingly, BFR has been shown to improve recovery.  Using BFR passively – just sitting there! –  results in performance that is actually improved in a shorter period than rest alone.

BFR is truly a game-changer in rehab and physical conditioning.  You just need to know that you are safe to use BFR.  Which is why it is important to only work with qualified, specifically trained and appropriately equipped health practitioners.

Where to from here?

Screening for suitability of BFR is essential.  There are some conditions which will prevent us using this method. It is important you exercise safely, so we will check you are okay to participate.

We can then start guiding you through a few stages of BFR.  We get you accustomed to the sensation first, then start very light exercising (e.g. walking or cycling), then start doing light strength exercise.

Our programs have shown that BFR can not only improve strength and function, in some people it actually reduces pain!

Central Coast BFR

If you would like more information or want to discuss how we might incorporate BFR into your injury management, please get in touch! If you’d like to learn a bit more about BFR, this link will take you to our BFR webpage.  If you are scientifically-minded, this link will take you to arguably the most comprehensive article on BFR in recent years.  We will be happy to look at your options and guide you through safe and effective exercise options.  If you are interested in our BFR For KNEES Program, click on this link.

(For those wanting to know a little more about the specific physiology, I’ll aim to get up a post that outlines this.  Watch out, BFR nerd about!)