Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Explained

MAVen team

For some patients who are considering physical therapy, muscle weakness is common with a variety of conditions. Whether you just had surgery, are currently dealing with an injury, or live with severe osteoarthritis; it can be painful to continue living an active lifestyle. Pushing through the pain may cause further injury, but not being active can lead to muscle loss. 

So what can you do? 

Blood flow restriction allows someone to reap the benefits of heavy intense lifting, while only requiring the patient to perform low to moderate-intensity training. 

What Is Blood Flow Restriction? 

Blood Flow Restriction is a training technique used in physical therapy. It can help build strength and bulk muscle without the need for heavy weights. Bands are placed around the upper arm or leg, which will alter the blood flow to the limb. This restriction forces your muscles to work harder. 

How Does It Work? 

First, let's break down how muscles grow. To strengthen muscles, it is important to keep loading and working the muscle by doing different exercises. This places metabolic stress on the muscle from the oxygen-deprived environment, which then creates a space for the metabolites to accumulate. Having this type of environment stimulates muscle-building pathways that help promote growth. 

Blood Flow Restriction recreates this type of environment. The only difference is, that it doesn't require heavy lifting, but rather uses very light loads. 

How Is It Helpful? 

After having surgery or overcoming an injury, it may be painful to lift heavy weights. Yet, not exercising can lead to muscle atrophy and strength loss. By using the lighter weights to stimulate the same hypoxic environment for muscle growth, your body will stimulate a heavy intense workout from light weights. 

What Does A BFR Program Look Like? 

People who have experienced ACL reconstructions, rotator cuff injury, or Achilles tendinopathy are all common diagnoses that can benefit from BFR. Using a cuff around the arm or leg will help measure which occlusion pressure. 


The occlusion pressure is the point where your arterial blood flow is completely closed. The feeling is similar to a blood pressure machine at the doctor's office. It will then calculate the percentage you will work with. Typically it is 80% occlusion for lower limbs and 50% occlusion for upper limbs. This way it is more personalized for each patient based on their body’s blood pressure. 


A traditional program will perform 30 repetitions at the beginning. Then move to 3 sets of 15 repetitions with 30-second rest between each set. You may only do one exercise during the session, or you may do a few. Regardless, be prepared to have your muscles feeling very tired afterwards.

Is BFR Safe? 

BFR is safe when performed by a trained professional who uses the proper equipment. Since you need to achieve muscle fatigue to promote muscle building, it is common for someone to feel tired and sore after a session. Some even experience mild tingling or numbness in a limb during the exercises. This happens when the cuff is inflated, but would resolve once the cuff is deflated at the end of the exercise. Others may see color changes from the blood occlusion, all common symptoms of BFR. If you are experiencing any side effects, such as pain, discomfort, or dizziness please consult with a medical practitioner. 

However, if you have a medical history of hypertension, diabetes, a past medical history of stroke or blood clots, a blood clotting disorder, cardiovascular disease, or are pregnant, BFR may not be the best option for you.


At MAVEN, all our Doctors of Physical Therapy are trained in using BFR with our clients. We use Owen’s Recovery Systems Delfi Personalized Tourniquet System, the gold standard in BFR. This includes real-time pressure that monitors and adjusts in real-time to maintain a consistent limb occlusion pressure throughout the entire exercise.

Looking for Blood flow restriction therapy in Santa Monica? Contact MAVEN to see how a BFR program could benefit you.