What is Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFRT)?
Blood Flow Restriction Training involves restricting blood flow to a specific area of the body during exercise using a special cuff that looks like a blood pressure cuff. It has been shown to be
a safe and effective way to increase muscle mass, strength, and endurance—particularly in patients that are injured or have weak muscles.
BFRT has become a popular tool for improving muscle strength, size, and functional aerobic capacity in shorter amounts of time, with less stress on the body than typical training. It can also be effective for surgical patients, as muscle atrophy can be significant after two weeks of disuse, such as in post-surgical situations.
Results are achieved by placing the self-adjusting cuff around the limb being trained or treated, typically the upper arm or thigh. The cuff is inflated to a specific pressure, usually between 60% to 80%. This pressure creates a temporary reduction of blood flow to the limb, triggering a cascade of physiological responses within the body. This ultimately leads to improved strength by activating the body’s natural muscle-building pathways.
Utilized by rehabilitation professionals, professional trainers, and strength & conditioning coaches, BFRT has become a popular tool to improve muscle strength, size, and functional aerobic capacity in shorter amounts of time, with less stress on the body than typical training. Using BFRT, muscle mass can be preserved during times of inactivity or bedrest.
Who can benefit from BFRT?
BFRT is frequently used in the treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries or disabilities, though it can also be used in conjunction with a training regimen or to aid in recovery. Several studies have shown that using BFRT during light-intensity exercise results in greater strength and muscle mass improvements than when doing light exercise alone. It achieves similar results to performing high-intensity exercise.
BFRT can be beneficial for individuals recovering from injury or surgery. By introducing this tool during the early stages of rehabilitation, patients will lose less muscle mass during recovery. This is especially useful for individuals who are unable to tolerate traditional strength training due to pain or weakness. Research has shown that patients can experience significant improvements in their recovery when using BFRT in addition to their rehabilitation exercises.
BFRT can be used for general strengthening, particularly in certain populations such as the elderly or in athletes seeking to maximize their training.
Those who can benefit:
Casted/braces (fracture in non-weightbearing period)
Elderly (general weakness or osteoarthritis)
Athletic population (injured or non-injured/all levels)
What to expect at your session?
Cuffs used in our clinic are registered by the FDA as a Class 1 Medical Device, similar to a blood pressure cuff. If the area of concern/injury involves the lower body, please wear shorts or tight-fitting pants. If the area of concern/injury involves the upper body, wear a tank top or a tight-fitting long sleeve shirt. This will aid in accurate pressure findings.
The patient will be guided through an individualized treatment session, which begins with BFRT pneumatic cuff calibration to find your limb occlusion pressure (this takes 1-2 minutes in a rested position), followed by 20-30 minutes of functional exercise related to your injury, with intermittent cuff deflation and rest as needed.
During sessions, patients may experience some level of discomfort due to the high pressure used to partially restrict blood flow. Your pain level will be closely monitored throughout your session so adjustments can be made for your individual case. Patients frequently feel muscle soreness following sessions, much like how you would feel after a higher-intensity or higher-load workout. This is a normal response from your body as your strength improves!
Is BFRT Safe?
In short, yes—BFRT is very safe. There are, however, some populations who should not use BFRT…
Who is NOT a candidate for BFRT (not comprehensive):
History of cardiac or vascular health issues
Severe varicose veins
History of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Clotting risk (e.g. from certain medications)
Your physiotherapist will ask you questions about your medical history prior to any BFRT to assess if it is appropriate for you.