Brand new this month, we’ve got an additional  option for those of you  joint pain– Blood Flow Restriction Training!   Getting stronger will reduce pain, but when you’re in a lot of pain it is difficult to strengthen, thus leaving us in a perpetuating cycle of pain and weakness.  To provide strengthening benefit, you need to significantly load the joint, aka, add weight.  But when you have pain just lifting your arm against gravity, what are you left with for exercise?  Enter: blood flow restriction training (commonly referred to as BFRT).  We now have this available at our clinics and wanted to tell you more about it so you can decide if it is something you might benefit from. 

What is BFR?  During blood flow restriction (BFR) training, a cuff like a blood pressure cuff is used to apply reduced arterial flow to your arm or leg while performing low load, low intensity exercise.  Reducing blood flow to the limb mimics higher load training without the stress and pain on the joints and muscles. You reap all the benefits like you went to the gym and lifted really heavy but didn’t.  

How does it work? Reducing blood flow to the limb causes the muscle to become hypoxic, or low on oxygen.  This causes metabolic stress which increases signaling, release of growth hormone and lactate which are linked to collagen synthesis, activation of stem cells, and endorphin release.  Phew, those were some big words.  To simplify, when you cut off blood to the muscle it causes swelling and therefore increased muscle growth.  Research is also showing some osteogenic responses, meaning bone growth, which is amazing! 

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Who is it helpful for?  Clinically, it is most helpful for people with arthritis in their joints (especially in lower extremities)who have pain when trying to lift weights.   Also patients before and after surgery to help rebuild muscle and strength faster, osteoporosis,  and anyone with chronic weakness or pain related to an old injury.  BFR can even simply be used in addition to your regular fitness routine.   

Is it safe?  BFR is a low-risk treatment.  Since you are active during the treatment it reduces the risk of blood clotting.  Your blood pressure and heart rate will become elevated but less so than if you were doing high intensity exercise.  There is also no damage directly to the tissue.  Those who have poor circulation, severely high blood pressure, are pregnant, have active cancer or history of blood clots do need clearance from a doctor first. 

Is it painful?  While the cuff is inflated, there is some discomfort but not pain and the pressure can be adjusted to make it more tolerable.  BFR has been shown to reduce pain and provide an analgesic effect both short and long term.  When done with a session of BFR you are also less likely to experience muscle soreness than had you lifted heavily. 

Do you have a leg that has always felt weaker due to chronic knee pain?  Having  shoulder pain or difficulty fully recovering from  shoulder surgery?  BFR might be a helpful addition to your physical therapy and recovery.  If you have questions or want to know if BFR might help you, give us a call or send us an email.  We will happily talk to you about what is going on and what your goals are to determine if BFR is a good treatment option for you. 

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