Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Therapy/Training
Blood flow restriction (BFR) training has been gaining popularity with everyone from professional sports teams and Olympians to the recreational athlete. But, why all the buzz? The facts are BFR really works and the research proves it.
BFR incorporates the use of a specialized tourniquet close to either the shoulder or the hip joints to limit arterial blood inflow while blocking venous return in the limb. It is used to help build and strengthen muscles and it follows many of the same physiological principles as traditional high load strength training (70+% of a 1 repetition max). The difference is BFR training is able to improve strength and muscle gains while lifting far lighter weights (20-30% of a 1 repetition max) compared to high load strength training. The lower loads associated with BFR training achieve the desired results without putting as much “mechanical” stress on muscle tissue, tendons or joints thereby reducing muscle breakdown and lowering the risk of injury. It is the perfect adjunct to a rehabilitation program where lifting heavy loads is often prohibited by age, pain and/or the need for tissue healing.
BFR training forces the body to switch from using slow twitch oxidative muscle fibers to fast twitch anaerobic muscle fibers more quickly by reducing the oxygen available to the muscle tissues. Use of anaerobic muscle fibers creates an increase in lactate production and the sensation of a muscle “burn” significantly faster than aerobic muscle fibers. The release of growth hormone (GH) and associated increase in the release of insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), which is directly linked to muscle hypertrophy, are also associated with the use of BFR training (Takarada 2000, Kraemer 1990). The GH and IGF-1 pathways have also been shown to play a critical role in improving tendon and bone health.
There are some risks with using BFR but, with proper application and monitoring, the risks tend to be minimal in the clinical setting. The most common reported side effects include; delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), numbness, dizziness, and bruising all of which are temporary and in most cases preventable with close monitoring and open communication.
In summary, BFR training increases muscle size and strength at a lower safer load and is a great adjunct to any rehabilitation program. BFR can safely and quickly help the return to an active and healthy lifestyle.
Kraemer, W.J., Marchitelli, L., Gordon, S.E., Harman, E., Dziados, J.E., Mello, R., Fleck, S.J. (1990). Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. J Appl Physiol (1985). 69(4), 1442-1450.
Takarada, Y., Takazawa, H., Sato, Y., Takebayashi, S., Tanaka, Y., & Ishii, N. (2000). Effects of resistance exercise combined with moderate vascular occlusion on muscular function in Humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 88(6), 2097-2106.