"We have to get our athlete's into BEAST MODE during physical therapy & recovery, otherwise, we are NOT challenging skeletal muscle nearly enough." -Johnny Owens, DPT Owens Recovery Sciences
When we first introduced Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) to our patients, invariable, the question came up: "What is this doing?"
Blood flow restriction is a novel, albeit not new, concept whereby arterial blood is restricted (not occluded) via a pneumatic tourniquet (similar to a standard blood pressure cuff) into a limb for a brief period of time.
By reducing the amount of oxygenated blood entering into the limb, either the arm or the leg, the affected limb quickly becomes stressed due to the lack of oxygen...
This stress has a significant effect on skeletal muscle, which oftentimes has become resistant to increasing in size and therefore strength. The stressful feeling in the limb with the tourniquet on feel eerily similar to the experience when we were kids and rode our bikes everywhere. Well, if you were like me, you rode your bike EVERYWHERE. Well, the feeling of riding a bike up a steep, steep hill was not one which many particularly enjoy.
That heaviness felt in the thighs while riding up a steep, steep hill are almost exactly the feelings that can be felt in the legs during a BFR session.
Needless to say, our patients have grown skeletal muscle, increased metabolic efficiency and seen tremendous progress by using BFR. Most importantly, upon completion of the rigorous BFR Plan of Care, every single patient has returned (safely) to their specific activity - running, weightlifting, football, lacrosse, soccer - you name it.
BFR has truly become a game-changer when it comes to proper rehabilitation and performance goals. But don't be fooled but other products on the market right now. The Delphi System we use at our office is a medical grade surgical tourniquet device, passing all the medical standards to be used in an operating room.
Unfortunately, not all devices are created equally. There are a lot of cheaper options on the market, which yield poor results (sadly). If you want to use a cheaper BFR device, our office is not the place for you.
Who is BFR for?
BFR is PERFECT for patients is perfect for 2 types of individuals; post-operative patients and recently injured individuals.
Post-operative BFR :
Unfortunately, traditional "PT" and "Chiro" treatment use colored bands and dumbbells, which are NOT enough to create stress in a limb that has undergone a surgical procedure. Picture a knee-ACL patient, with tons and tons of muscle atrophy (decrease) in the thigh region. Will a 3 pound ankle weight for 12 week REALLY help that person re-gain strength? We don't think so either. Enter the tourniquet. With the same 3 pound weight, BUT only 20% blood flowing into the limb, now we can metabolic stress muscle and therefore INCREASE it. Now we have improved muscle function and we are on our way to getting that person back to their sport/event/activity.
Acute Injuries & BFR:
Frequently, the phrase, "There's nothing we can do until the swelling goes down" is uttered around sports injuries. Picture the tweaked knee, the swollen ankle or the irritated shoulder. When an injury occurs, the swelling, which is the local inflammatory process, is actually a part of the healing process around the injured tissue. We don't really want to hurry that process up! However, the dichotomy here is that we also do not want to lose our hard-earned skeletal muscle. In some cases, this hard-earned muscle mass took YEARS to achieve, and, sadly, within 24 hours of not using it, the muscle begins to "waste" away (atrophy). What if there was a way we could maintain the muscle mass but not affect the tissue healing process? Enter BFR. With BFR, we can achieve something truly remarkable. We can place a tourniquet on the limb for ~20 minutes and mitigate skeletal muscle loss. Pretty cool (as long as you have the gold-standard BFR device, which we do!)
If you, or someone you know, has suffered with knee pain, hip pain or shoulder pain, BFR could be the vital approach to getting you back to your previous activity levels. It happens all the time at our office.
BUT, before you finish reading this, I need you to know that BFR is NOT for everybody. It is intense. You will experience complete muscle failure. This can leave individuals feeling totally uncomfortable - temporarily. Once the cuff is deflated, the feeling goes away. BUT, the warning needs to be heeded. This is NOT for individuals who enjoy sitting on a table getting massages and stretches for 45-60 minutes per session.
This is for those of you, who want to get better, so that you can get back out onto the field, court, rink, or trail and simply GET AFTER IT.
If that's your goal, we can help.
Call our office TODAY to schedule a BFR Demo just for you - (630) 923-5049.
Alex Earl, DC is a board certified chiropractic physician, who helps athletes stay healthy, increase performance and reduce injury risk.