CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A local clinic is using an unusual method of therapy to help patients recover from injuries and surgeries faster.
It’s called blood flow restriction training.
This treatment started in the 1960s in Japan. Over the past few years, this technology is being employed more in physical therapy sessions across the country.
For the past four weeks, Tuloso-Midway High School junior Cristian Benavides spends an hour receiving therapy to heal his ACL, which he tore while playing football. Part of his recovery is using blood flow restriction therapy.
“What it kind of does is restricts the blood flow through your legs and fatigues your muscles more than if you were doing a regular workout,” said Benavides.
“This results in a stimulation of muscle, tendon, and vascular growth, all with a shorter duration of training required, as well as scientifically less resistance or load needed,” said Humpal Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers physical therapist Laura Picha.
During the therapy, a tourniquet-like device is placed over the muscle, restricting blood flow while small movements are made.
“It allows someone that is in a postoperative state, so if you just had an ACL repair, a meniscus repair, any type of surgery to really engage those muscle fibers and work to try and help with atrophy, try and help with muscle stimulation, or your muscle recruitment,” said Picha.
This non-traditional method is all about rebuilding muscle strength and balance.
“It also really speeds up the recovery regarding how well they can get back to day-to-day things. Of course we have to respect post-op protocol that the surgeon puts in place. But they are really able to meet that criteria for progression a lot easier and quicker,” said Picha.
Benavides is getting his strength back without compromising injury. The restricted blood vessels cause the body to pump hormones that promote healing.
“It just helped me get my quad muscles back as much as I possibly can and in a quicker period of time than just having to prolong the surgery and get my muscles slowly back,” said Benavides.
Blood flow restriction training can be helpful for individuals recovering from an injury or surgery (often to the lower extremities) who are unable to lift heavier weights or exercise at a higher intensity. It’s also beneficial for healthy individuals seeking additional strength gains.
Blood flow restriction training is not for everyone. People with heart, circulation, clotting, cancer, and those who are pregnant should not use BFR.
There are many precautions that your health care professional will discuss with you, including any risks and side effects.