What is Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?

UofL Health – Sports Medicine Institute (Cardinal Station)

Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) therapy is the application of a restrictive blood pressure cuff to the upper arm or upper thigh occluding blood flow and oxygen to the affected limb. It can be done at rest or in conjunction with exercise. BFR therapy facilitates physiological processes and adaptations as if the patient is doing high resistance training when it is actually very light resistance or no resistance at all. It partially occludes the amount of arterial blood flow going into the limb and fully occludes venous flow out of the limb.

How Does BFR Work? 

The conventional way to increase muscle size and strength requires lifting roughly 65-70% of 1Rep Max. The working muscles deplete oxygen levels and increase lactate levels.

BFR therapy reproduces this low oxygen, high lactate state by applying a tourniquet while doing a lower load of exercise using only 20-30% of 1 Rep Max. This is extremely beneficial for patients recovering from an injury or surgery who cannot lift heavy weights.

What Are the Benefits?

  • Increase Growth Hormone (GH)
  • Increase Muscle Growth and Strength
  • Increase Healing of Tendons
  • Increase Collagen Synthesis
  • Increase Bone Growth
  • Slow Scaring

Enhanced Therapy Development 

This therapy was discovered by then 18-year-old, Dr. Yoshiaki Sato, in 1966 when his lower legs went numb and swollen from kneeling for a long time. He felt like he got a “pump” as if he lifted weights. After trying different bands and straps to reproduce the “pump” feeling, he developed a program to help recover from injuries in 1973. Dr. Sato called it KAATSU, which means “additional pressure.” He started extensive research at the University of Tokyo in 1995.

After reviewing Sato’s research, San Antonio Military Medical Center physical therapist, Johnny Owens, began exploring ways to use this therapy to help limb salvage patients. He worked with Delfi, a surgical tourniquet company, to develop an FDA approved machine for BFR therapy and founded a research company, Owens Recovery Science. He continues BFR research and is a Medical Consultant.

To learn more about Blood Flow Restriction therapy, now offered at UofL Health – Frazier Rehab Institute – Owsley Brown Frazier Sports Medicine Center at 215 Central Avenue, Suite 200, contact 502-637-9313 or visit UofLHealth.org/FrazierRehab.

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Article by: Steve Hoelscher, MS, LAT, ATC

Steve Hoelscher, MS, LAT, ATC, is a licensed/certified athletic trainer and supervisor clinical athletics trainer at UofL Health – Frazier Rehabilitation Institute. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and went on to earn his masters from the University of Louisville. His specialties include working with athletic injuries, pelvic/hip conditions, soft tissue mobilization, movement screenings, return-to-play analysis and recovery. Steve has multiple certifications, including Blood Flow Restriction Therapy, Functional Movement Screen, Selective Functional Movement Assessment, Total Motion Release (Level 2), Sound Assisted Soft Tissue Assessment and Postural Restoration: Lumbo-Pelvic-Femoral. Steve has over 20 years of experience with 18 years in Division I College Athletics. He also has professional experience with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and St. Louis Rams football team.

All posts by Steve Hoelscher, MS, LAT, ATC
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