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Blood Flow Restriction Therapy


If you suffered an injury, had surgery, or suffered a chronic condition, you likely want to return to your regular physical health as quickly as possible. In such instances, physical therapy can provide you with the necessary rehabilitation services, working with you on various potential rehabilitation exercises that can help you improve your health and recover any lost gains.

Many who are injured have found that blood flow restriction therapy (BFR Therapy) can be extremely beneficial when recovering from an injury. Blood flow restriction therapy can provide an injured individual with specific exercises that can improve and strengthen muscles, helping someone recover while reducing the amount of stress and strain on the injury in question. Therefore, blood flow restriction therapy can be a critical component of sports medicine when done right and managed as part of an overall physical therapy approach. 

At Boston Sports Medicine, we offer blood flow restriction therapy. Our patients have found it a critical component of recovery for many of our patients.

What is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

Blood flow restriction therapy applies pressure to a certain muscle group or extremity as part of a physical therapy regimen. The pressure applied to a patient is not meant to cut off or stop blood circulation but to reduce it. This resistance training prevents blood from leaving the area in question, allowing a patient to achieve enhanced muscle gains while lifting reduced loads. As such, it is a form of restriction exercise in that full muscle movement and blood flow are restricted.

A key component of any form of sports medicine is to make gradual improvements over time. Like other forms of physical therapy, blood flow restriction therapy will begin with relatively lighter levels of resistance or restriction. Then, as time passes and a patient continues to heal and gain muscle strength, the intensity of the exercise will increase. At Boston Sports Medicine, we use external cuffs that are explicitly calibrated to meet your needs, gradually adjusting the pressure to fit your training regimen. 

We use state-of-the-art technology to ensure that this physical therapy fits your overall rehabilitation goals. Any blood flow restriction therapy will begin with a full-scale medical assessment and intake form. Next, a physical therapist will discuss your rehabilitation goals and ensure this resistance exercise is right for you. 

One of the main goals of any blood flow restriction therapy exercise is to improve overall health by promoting muscle hypertrophy. Therefore, there is no question it is worth discussing what this form of healing is and how it can positively impact the health and rehabilitation of a patient. 

What is Muscle Hypertrophy?

Understanding muscle hypertrophy is key to understanding how blood flow restriction therapy works and how it can positively impact a patient’s health. 

Muscle hypertrophy is another term used to refer to muscle growth, specifically the kind of muscle growth that occurs at the cellular level when you exercise. Regular exercise will help you achieve muscle hypertrophy, provided the workout has adequate intensity and duration.

Muscle hypertrophy is good to achieve, but it is important to understand how blood flow restriction therapy relates to muscle hypertrophy. Studies have explicitly found that well-designed blood flow restriction therapy can help a patient achieve muscle hypertrophy. In fact, some studies have found that blood flow restriction therapy is actually more beneficial for achieving muscle hypertrophy than regular exercise alone. These benefits occur because the occlusion of blood flow to targeted muscles can help stimulate a patient’s muscles to encourage muscle growth and enhance the impact of physical therapy. In addition, blood flow restriction therapy can also cause certain hormones to be released that are thought to stimulate muscle growth.

It is important to note that blood flow restriction therapy and muscle hypertrophy can interact in several ways. For example, the size of the resistance bands applied, their exact placement, and the intensity of the pressure applied by these bands can all impact the exact nature of this restriction training and physical therapy. All of this gets back to a critical point: Blood flow restriction therapy isn’t something you should try on your own. Doing so risks having the exercise do more harm than good and potentially causing damage to your body. Instead, it is always preferable to work with an expert to ensure you properly engage in this therapy. 

Who Would Benefit from Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

In theory, anyone who is physically capable of managing it. Blood flow restriction therapy has limitations, but plenty of individuals can engage in this type of therapy without being weight-lifters. In fact, just the opposite is true: Properly calibrated blood flow restriction therapy can help a person who may otherwise be incapable of lifting weights see the benefit of repeated weight lifting. This is the case because blood flow restriction therapy allows an individual to make major muscle gains while only needing to lift a smaller amount of weight. Some view the unique restrictions placed on the body with blood flow restriction therapy as a “shortcut” to muscle hypertrophy and repair.

By reducing the amount of weight and resistance needed to make major, positive changes, blood flow restriction therapy becomes ideal for a person who has been injured or is looking to restore muscle strength. Alternatively, it may be perfect for someone who would otherwise be physically unable to engage in the robust series of exercises needed to make major muscle gains. Finally, it is also worth considering that some individuals are extremely pain sensitive and unable to manage significant levels of weight. In that case, blood flow restriction therapy would be ideal, as it can reduce the load (and thus the pain or subsequent soreness) that a person faces as part of their weight-lifting program. This can be particularly useful for a person who suffers from a wide range of illnesses that may increase their pain levels, like fibromyalgia. 

How Can My Physical Therapist Help Me With Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

You should only seek out blood flow restriction therapy from a physical therapist who is properly trained. This individual should be certified by the governing bodies and understand the benefits of this therapeutic modality and how to ensure you engage in it in the safest manner possible.

A physical therapist with the proper training in blood flow restriction therapy will understand the following:

  • The specific mechanisms by which blood flow restriction therapy works.
  • A comprehensive understanding of human anatomy and blood flow.
  • How different levels of intensity and different types of bands can alter the impact of blood flow restriction therapy.
  • How to integrate blood flow restriction therapy with other therapeutic methods.

Maximizing the benefit of blood flow restriction therapy – and using it safely, particularly after an injury – requires expert and trained professionals. 

Is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Popular Without An Injury? 

Actually, yes.

Blood flow restriction therapy has become extremely popular among physical therapists who are looking to help patients achieve major rehabilitation and strength training gains without needing to endure rounds and rounds of heavy-duty weight lifting. However, many reports of weight lifters – and even Olympic athletes – have used blood flow restriction therapy as part of their strength training programs, even if they have not been injured. Indeed, this trend has been ongoing since the 1960s, although its popularity certainly appears to be accelerating.

If you think about it, there are many other forms of resistance exercises or restriction training that individuals already engage in, albeit in a lighter form. Examples include the popular use of resistance bands for strength training and flexibility purposes. Indeed, many weight-lifting exercises involve isolating certain muscles to target exercise to another muscle group. Therefore, it could be argued that this is a much less restrictive form of blood flow restriction therapy. 

Are There Any Health Reasons I Should Skip Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

No one should engage in any form of physical therapy if there is a risk that doing so will negatively impact that person’s health. At Boston Sports Medicine, our team of experts works with you and the rest of your medical team to ensure that you are healthy enough to undergo any form of physical therapy and can handle the rigors of the specific program we design.

Blood flow restriction therapy may sometimes invoke limited negative side effects, including increased blood pressure or otherwise altered cardiovascular impacts. If you have any concerns about the potential impacts of this therapy, you should speak with your doctor or physical therapist. If you believe the dangers are too great – or if our medical team comes to that conclusion – we will work with you to develop an alternative physical therapy regimen that will meet your needs without endangering your health. 

Is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Useful For Reasons Other Than Physical Therapy?

It is critical to note that a key component of any physical therapy is a comprehensive exercise designed to suit a patient’s needs. It is rare that any patient will merely get one form of physical therapy training. At Boston Sports Medicine, we work with doctors, physical therapists, and our patients to ensure we develop a comprehensive physical therapy program that meets their specific needs.

Blood flow restriction therapy works best when a specific muscle has suffered damage and can be occluded physically. As such, other forms of physical therapy that may complement blood flow restriction therapy include:

  • Personal and performance training: Besides blood flow restriction therapy, customized personal training can be adapted to patients’ needs and help give them the specific health and balance rehabilitation services they require. At Boston Sports Medicine, we employ a variety of exercise specialists that can create a physical therapy program that meets your individual needs.
  • Joint mobilization: If a joint or extremity becomes too tight, it cannot properly prepare for physical therapy. We can work with you to create specialized manual therapy treatments to build strength, loosen muscles, reduce inflammation, and restore flexibility. 
  • Low-Level Laser Therapy: Low-Level Laser Therapy lets our patients get the latest technology. We use a low-level laser to target a damaged section of a patient’s body, increasing the cellular activity of a damaged area and promoting healing. 
  • Progressive resistance exercise: In this exercise program, patients will experience gradually increasing exercises, allowing them to heal and lift as their body allows. A patient will work with a physical therapist to develop a program that meets their needs. 

Also Read: Physical Therapy for Scoliosis

Where Can I Get Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

We’re deeply proud of our work in being one of Massachusetts’ leading providers of blood flow restriction therapy, and we can work with patients like you to ensure you are getting the training you need to get up and running again. We offer blood flow restriction therapy at three of our ten locations, including Brookline, Somerville, and Wilmington. We also provide dozens of other physical therapy services and can work with you to ensure that your blood flow restriction therapy fits your healthcare goals.

Want more information? Contact us today to learn how Boston Sports Medicine can work with you to give you the physical therapy you need.