If you’re recovering from an injury or a recent surgery, you probably know that strength training is an important part of musculoskeletal rehabilitation.
Lifting the right amount of weight can help you rebuild strength; lifting too much or lifting it incorrectly risks causing further injury.
That’s why you might be interested in a relatively new technique called Blood Flow Restriction Training. It helps you gain similar improvements in strength and muscle growth without needing to use heavyweights.
What Is Blood Flow Restriction Training?
If you’ve ever had your blood pressure taken, you’ll remember the tight cuff that squeezes your upper arm during the test. In Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) training, you wear a restrictive cuff or a tourniquet around a limb while you exercise. It makes it a bit harder for your arteries to pump blood to the working muscle and much harder for your veins to carry it away.
How Is Blood Flow Restriction Training Used?
BFR training can be used to improve the performance of healthy individuals and to improve the recovery of people who have experienced an injury or undergone surgery. It’s proving to be a valuable tool for people needing rehabilitation for a musculoskeletal weakness.
What Are the Rehabilitation Benefits of Blood Flow Restriction Training?
The tight cuff around your arm or leg makes your muscle work harder. A lightweight will feel much heavier. That means you get the muscle-building benefits of lifting a heavyweight without placing any extra stress on your joints or heart.
That’s really significant. If you’re recovering from an injury, or have an underlying condition that affects your musculoskeletal strength, the last thing you want to do is make things worse. BFR essentially offers the benefits of resistance training without the associated risks of lifting a heavy load.
One study compared BFR training to heavy-load training in women with knee osteoarthritis. The different types of training produced similar increases in muscle size and strength. But, the patients in the BFR group experienced less knee pain during exercise, probably because they were lifting lighter weights than the group doing traditional resistance training.
Is Blood Flow Restriction Training Safe?
So, we know it’s effective, but is it safe? Research shows that, when done correctly, BFR is about as safe as traditional forms of strength exercise.
- Muscular disuse atrophy
- Been immobilised for a while.
How Tight Should the Cuff Be?
This is a crucial question for safe and effective BFR training. If the cuff or tourniquet is too loose, you won’t gain the benefits of BFR training; if it’s too tight, you risk damaging your muscles. That’s why we don’t recommend that you try this at home!
It’s also why we prefer cuffs to a tourniquet. There’s no easy way of measuring how tight a tourniquet is whereas we can fine-tune cuff pressure quite easily.
There’s no one set pressure that suits everyone. The cuff needs to be inflated to the right pressure for you. That depends on your build, your gender and whether you’re working on your arms or legs.
Cuff pressure is usually worked out based on your thigh circumference. Remember the study that showed the benefits of BFR for women with knee osteoarthritis? Well, it didn’t work when they repeated it on men using the same cuff pressure. That’s probably because men tend to have bigger thighs so the cuff pressure that enabled the women to build muscle was too weak to create any improvement in men.
How Southport Central Physiotherapy Can Help You
If you think BFR might help you achieve your rehabilitation goals, then please come and see us at Southport Central Physiotherapy. We can:
- Assess whether you’d be suitable for BFR
- Work out the correct cuff tightness for you
- Monitor you for any signs of muscle damage during treatment
- Measure your progress, which provides encouraging feedback and motivation to continue with your rehab.
Make an appointment today. We’d love to help you achieve your rehabilitation goals so you can enjoy life to the full.