Blood Flow Restriction Technique Lightens the Load for Rehabbing Patients
May 17, 2022
Rehabbing an injured ligament, tendon or muscle is no longer the heavy lift it used to be.
Traditional strength training in physical therapy is being altered with a technique that allows patients to build muscle strength faster using significantly less weight resistance.
The technique, called blood flow restriction therapy, uses a specialized tourniquet, a cuff that is placed around the arm or leg to restrict blood flow to the muscle area. The therapy has been used by pro sports teams, including the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Guardians, and produces bigger gains than exercise alone. Patients can increase size and strength of muscles faster using lighter weights.
University Hospitals Sports Medicine uses blood flow restriction therapy for patients after injury or surgery. The therapy also helps with arthritis, age-related muscle loss and general strengthening, especially among the elderly.
Unique Benefits for Older Patients
Physical therapist Ben Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT of University Hospitals Sports Medicine says evidence is emerging that the therapy also benefits older adults at risk of falls.
“It can be very beneficial for building muscular strength in the lower extremities of older individuals who are needing to increase their strength for a multitude of reasons,” Geletka says.
“There’s a good amount of research on aging population with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). It’s been shown that instead of lifting weight, putting blood flow restriction cuffs on both legs and then having them walk on the treadmill at a prescribed rate will increase muscular thigh circumference with performance alone.”
For older patients at the highest fall risk, a harness system over the treadmill helps support them, he says.
“The number of patients who could benefit is quite large,” Geletka says. “Most folks who can exercise or who can have surgery are eligible.”
University Hospitals physical therapists have used blood flow restriction therapy at some locations since 2017 and its use is expanding to more locations.