Blood Flow Restriction Therapy

Blood flow restriction therapy, or BFRT for short, is a novel approach to rehabilitation and strength training that has gained popularity in recent years.

It involves restricting blood flow to a specific area of the body during exercise using a special cuff that looks like a blood pressure cuff. While this may sound counterintuitive, it has been shown to be a safe and effective way to increase muscle mass, strength and endurance, particularly in patients that are injured or have weak muscles.

The basic idea behind BFRT is to create a state of “ischemia” or reduced blood flow to the working muscle.

This is achieved by placing the self-adjusting cuff around the limb being trained or treated, typically the upper arm or thigh. The cuff is inflated to a specific pressure, which is usually between 60%  to 80% . This pressure creates a temporary reduction of blood flow to the limb, which triggers a cascade of physiological responses within the body that ultimately leads to improved strength by activating the body’s natural muscle-building pathways.

Why use BFRT?

blood flow restriction therapy

Several studies have shown that using BFRT during light intensity exercise results in greater strength and muscle mass improvements than doing light exercise alone and similar results to performing high intensity exercise.

BFRT is a great way to bridge the gap for individuals recovering from injury or surgery in the early stages of rehabilitation, so they don’t lose as much muscle mass during their recovery. It allows for a low-load, high-repetition approach to training that can be used to safely and effectively rebuild muscle strength and size, or prevent muscle loss. This can be especially useful for individuals who are unable to tolerate traditional strength training due to pain or weakness. Research studies have shown that patients can experience significant improvements in their recovery when using BFRT in addition to their rehabilitation exercises.

BFRT can also be used for general strengthening, particularly in some populations such as the elderly, or in athletes that would like to maximize their training.

Who can benefit from BFRT?

BFRT can benefit certain populations and conditions where strength training has been shown to be beneficial, but where high intensity or high-load exercises can’t be tolerated, such as:

  • Post surgery rehabilitation
  • Pre surgery strengthening
  • Post fracture in the non-weight bearing period
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendinopathy
  • Exercise limited by pain

When is BFRT not recommended?

BFRT is not recommended for all patients such as those with a history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), impaired/poor circulation, hypertension, clotting risk (e.g. from certain medications), infection of the body part, open incisions,  open fractures, or pregnancy.

How often should you use BFRT?

There are different protocols that have been used in research that show beneficial gains with BFRT.

The following recommendations have been established:

  • Expected BFRT duration greater than 3 weeks – 2 to 3 sessions per week (This is the most common)
  • Expected BFRT duration less than 3 weeks – 1 to 2 sessions per day

Is it safe?

Current research shows no adverse effects when proper screening is used and BFRT programs are designed and taught by a trained physiotherapist.

Typically, the first question or concern is about blood clots. Resistance exercise and blood flow restriction actually stimulate the biological pathway that helps prevent blood clot formation.

Another common concern is regarding cardiovascular disease. If you have a cardiovascular disease or other medical conditions, then you may require clearance by your family physician. Your physiotherapist will be happy to communicate with your health care practitioners to ensure there are no concerns.

How can I start using BFRT?

Learn more about our blood flow restriction therapy program here.

In this session, a physiotherapist at Banff Sport Medicine will show you how to use the equipment and give you a program to follow.

After your initial appointment, if you are comfortable using the BFR equipment independently, you can call the clinic’s physiotherapy line (403 760 2897 ext 3) to book 30-min time slots to complete your program in our gym.