Your muscles need oxygen in order to do their job correctly, so you may be surprised to learn that there is a therapy technique whose goal is to limit how much oxygen your muscles receive. That’s the premise behind blood flow restriction therapy, which attempts to make it easier for your muscles to work harder. That may sound a little backwards, but we think it will make sense after you read more about blood flow restriction therapy in today’s blog.
How Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Works
Simply put, if your muscles don’t have enough oxygen, they have to work harder to function. It’s why athletes get cramps after running up and down the court or near the end of a soccer game. This oxygen helps to break down glucose in your body, which acts as fuel for your muscles in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This molecule helps to fuel your muscles, and when they are deprived of the oxygen needed to create this fuel, functioning optimally becomes a whole lot harder.
That said, sometimes your body needs to work harder in order to become stronger. If an action is too easy for your body, your muscles may be able to perform the action, but they won’t become stronger because of it. They need to be challenged and pushed to their limit in order to achieve some long-term gains, and that’s the goal of blood flow restriction therapy.
During a blood flow restriction session, your physical therapist will put a cuff or similar strap over an area of your body, like an arm or your leg. This cuff will temporarily reduce blood flow to the muscle, which in turn decreases how much oxygen it receives. This forces the muscle to work harder in order to perform the same maneuvers, which actually helps it become stronger when used in moderation.
The biggest reason why blood flow restriction therapy is helpful to a physical therapist is because it can help clients who are not yet cleared for high-intensity workouts. We can help injured athletes and other clients achieve some of the benefits of a high-intensity workout without actually having to go through a laborious routine. Many recovering clients are not yet cleared for this type of strenuous exercise, but they can become stronger and increase muscle mass without having to lift heavy weights or go for a long run with the help of blood flow restriction therapy.
Studies have shown that some of the same muscle building responses that are activated during high-intensity exercise can be achieved through low-impact exercises using BFR techniques. It’s great for individuals with conditions like:
- Chronic Pain
- Muscle Strains
- Muscle Weakness
- Surgical recovery
When performed with oversight from a physical therapist, blood flow restriction therapy can help you achieve the benefits of a high-intensity workout without exposing your injured or recovering body to such intense activity. That’s not to say it will be easier, but the physical load on your muscles will be less, which can help protect them if they are recovering after injury or surgery. They’ll be working harder because they have less oxygen, not because you’re trying to run faster or lift heavier weights.
As you might imagine, blood flow restriction therapy is only recommended when it is overseen by a trained physical therapist who knows how to administer the technique so that your muscles aren’t at risk because of the blood restriction. Never try the technique on your own without proper oversight. In the right hands, this therapy can be the perfect complement for the right patient, but it also can cause additional problems if performed incorrectly, so talk with your physical therapist if you are interested in BFR therapy.
For more information about the technique, or to set up an appointment with a physical therapist to help with a physical challenge you’re facing, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.