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Blood Flow Restriction Training: Make the Most of Physical Therapy Using A New Exercise Strategy

Medically Reviewed by Gordon Dugan, MPT, FCE Certified | September 7, 2021

It might seem odd to exercise with a tight cuff wrapped around your arm. After all, it would slow blood flow, and that doesn’t seem like a great idea when your body is screaming for oxygen mid-workout. But Blood Flow Restriction Training is an up-and-coming method for increasing muscle strength and endurance. At the Orthopaedic Institute of Western Kentucky (OIWK), we use it to help physical therapy patients reclaim their bodies and lives.


How does Blood Flow Restriction Training work?


A physical therapist places an FDA-approved cuff around one of a patient’s limbs during the process. The cuff is designed to restrict a specified amount of blood flow to the body part, which deprives it of oxygen and traps lactic acid in the muscle. As the patient exercises, the lack of oxygen causes the muscles to work harder than otherwise. Thus, it produces better results with lighter weights.


Why is this training useful?


For the past three years, OIWK has used Blood Flow Restriction Training exclusively for physical therapy and post-op rehabilitation, although some athletes now use it while preparing to compete. We find that blood flow restriction allows our patients to build muscle mass more safely because they don’t need heavy weights that could compromise form or aggravate injuries.


What can a patient expect during a training session?


We use Blood Flow Restriction Training to treat a wide variety of muscles in both the upper and lower extremities. Our physical therapists usually apply this method to the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, ankle musculature, shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps, and forearm musculature. 

A typical session includes three to five exercises with four sets of 15 or 30 repetitions. A patient will start with two or three open-chain movements, such as quad sets, leg raises, and kick-outs. Then, they move to one or two closed-chain exercises, like squats and lunges.


Does it work?


Of course! We’ve seen Blood Flow Restriction Training play a pivotal role in recovery. As a result, it’s a method that Gordon Dugan, MPT, one of our physical therapists, finds exciting.

“I have seen excellent results with our post-operative patients and athletes,” he says. “We are getting improved muscle activation and strength at a much quicker rate than traditional exercises.”

If you want to know more about this form of training, our physical therapists can help. Call us at (270) 575-0023.