Blood Flow Restriction Therapy
Muscle weakness or atrophy can result from a variety of conditions; cancer survivors, post-operative patients, people with COPD, and many more can experience general muscle mass loss as a result of an overall weakening of the body. In contrast, patients who have suffered from area-specific injuries will present more localized atrophy or loss of strength in a specific extremity.
Regardless of the affected area, it has long been known that the most efficient way to gain strength and increase muscle size is through resistance training. Where we use weights to push against gravity, asserting mechanical tension in the muscle and increasing its metabolic stress. Which, in turn, prompts muscle growth or hypertrophy.
When performing intense physical activities our muscles face different phases that promote their growth; factors like the activation of the myogenic stem cells, overall cell swelling, the release of hormones such as growth hormone, and hypoxia (reduction of oxygen levels within the muscle) directly affect the repair and growth of the muscle cells as well as general endurance.
The problem with resistance training is that while it is wonderful to build muscle and achieve higher levels of energy, patients whose physical health has been compromised are often not able to handle high weight loads and high intensity in their recovery regimens, and there is where blood flow restriction therapy comes into play.
Blood flow restriction therapy was initially developed in Japan back in the 1960s. This technique combines the use of tourniquets or cuffs on the affected limb to create partial blood flow occlusion (blockage of the blood vessels) and low-intensity exercises to recreate the same metabolic stress on the muscle as if the patient was performing the same exercises but with high intensity.
Through blood flow restriction, therapists are able to recreate the before-mentioned metabolic stress by partially blocking the arterial blood flow and completely blocking the venous blood flow of the limb, generating a hypoxic environment within the muscle that stimulates growth and endurance without the need for an intense workout session.
Research showed that patients who attended BFR therapy experienced an increase in muscular strength, hypertrophy, localized endurance, and cardiorespiratory similar to those who were performing high-intensity workouts while using only 20% to 30% of the maximum weight they could lift, which enabled them to fully participate in their therapy programs and helped them recover faster.
In conclusion, BFR therapy has positioned itself as an excellent alternative for treating patients who can’t undergo the large mechanical loads imposed during high-intensity resistance training. Its use has opened the doors so physically compromised people can achieve their full recovery in a safer and more controlled way.