Q and A with Justin: Understanding what BFR Can Do For You
Justin, what is Blood Flow Restriction Training?
(JUSTIN) Blood Flow Restriction Training, what we generally refer to as BFR for short, is brief or intermittent occlusion or restriction of arterial and venous blood flow that is performed by applying a tourniquet to the upper or lower extremity. BFR has been found to augment the skeletal muscle adaption along with systemic whole-body changes and cardiovascular benefits while at rest, with low intensity endurance exercises or low load-resistance training. It’s been found to be safe when applied with cuffs of appropriate width along with personalized limb occlusion pressure obtained with a handheld doppler.
OK, that’s a lot of words. Can you simplify it a bit for us?
(JUSTIN) Basically, it’s performing exercises while reducing the blood supply to certain muscles. That causes your body to go into an oxygen depleted, anaerobic state. And, once in that state, your body responds in a specific way, resulting in a specific training adaptation. Certain hormones are released that cause your body to respond like your exercising with heavy weights, instead of the low intensity weights or the low load resistance exercises you are actually using and doing. (Low intensity weights or low load resistance exercises are required for people who have been injured or who have certain weaknesses.) That means rebuilding muscle mass and strength quicker, like you would with heavy weights.
How do you restrict the blood flow?
(JUSTIN) We use blood flow cuffs. They are similar to a blood pressure cuff and some people actually use blood pressure cuffs for BFR. Our blood flow cuffs are considered medical tourniquets and are considered actual medical devices.
Who will benefit from BFR?
(JUSTIN) We can use BFR for any and all diagnoses of weakness or cardiovascular based endurance issues. So, BFR will improve your strength and muscular endurance. It can also improve cardiovascular endurance if we are doing specific endurance-based exercises.
Would the average person come to you or would someone who had knee surgery get a prescription or is an elite athlete going to be your typical patient?
(JUSTIN) All three! We use it with our higher-level athletes, especially post-surgery, because they can’t lift heavy weights like they typically would, and they need to get to a higher strength aspect quicker. So, BFR allows us to trick the body into believing it’s lifting heavy weights without actually lifting heavy weights.
What kind of results would someone expect to see with BFR compared to traditional treatment or therapy?
(JUSTIN) After surgery, muscles shrink. BFR will bring that muscle back to where it was pre-surgery much quicker than traditional therapy. You’ll gain a lot of strength much quicker with BFR than that traditional way. The best way to gain strength is to lift heavy. Most of our patients can’t lift heavy, so this is the next best thing compared to lifting heavy.
Are there people who shouldn’t try BFR?
(JUSTIN) As long as a person has clearance from their physician to exercise, then they can do BFR. (Ask your physician before seeing a BFR specialist to ensure this treatment is right for you and please consult a BFR specialist, before trying BFR training.)
Why should someone only attempt BFR under the supervision of someone expertly trained in BFR?
(JUSTIN) It’s important to use the right equipment (blood flow cuffs and handheld doppler) and to know your personal occlusion pressure. Once you are trained with the equipment and understand your individual pressure goals, it’s safe to do it yourself, but only with the right equipment.
What can a person do, if they hear about BFR and want to try it, but because it’s relatively new, their own doctor doesn’t know about it?
(JUSTIN) They can have their BFR-trained therapist get in touch with their physician to discuss the option. (There are over 700 research articles supporting BFR.)
Do you have a story of someone who was successful with BFR?
(JUSTIN) Yes! A patient had trouble with her quad muscle on the inside of her leg. We were going through traditional therapy but didn’t see huge changes. Once we began using the cuffs, we could see a significant improvement compared to what she had been doing. She had no pain and regained muscle mass on her quad. It was noticeable. Both sides were back to a similar size.
Justin Brown PT, DPT, ATC | Advanced PT – Clio | (810)687-8700 | JBrown@advpt.com