What Conditions can and can’t be Treated with Blood Flow Restriction Therapy (BFRT)?

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
Image of Dr. Tom Toothaker

Tom Toothaker, PT, DPT

The athletic and physiotherapy world is currently abuzz with talk about Blood Flow Restriction Therapy or BFRT.  This therapy uses a pneumatic restriction cuff (think blood pressure cuff) which is controlled by small computer to ensure patient safety. The cuff inflates and restricts (not stops) venous blood flow return, from a limb toward the heart, while the patient does specific low intensity exercises. 

In 2011, the United States began using BFRT to treat injured soldiers that had joint or soft tissue injuries and allowed them to strengthen their muscles without placing undue stress on their already painful soft tissues and joints. Because of this, medical clinicians started adopting BFRT to treat patients for musculoskeletal injury or conditions.  This therapy has been shown to have measurable, significant benefits, which include muscle growth and strengthening, pain relief, increased endurance and many others. 

So, what conditions can and can’t be treated with Blood Flow Restriction Therapy?  Except for those people who have specific co-morbid conditions, I can’t think of person or a condition or injury where BFRT wouldn’t be beneficial – it’s that good. 

Common Indications for BFRT (not all inclusive):

  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • ACL/meniscal tears
  • Non-union fractures
  • IT band issues
  • Pre-surgical strengthening
  • Post-surgical rehabilitation (ACL, Achilles, rotator cuff repairs, joint replacements, etc.)

Common Contraindications for BFRT (not all inclusive):

  • Vascular Conditions, such as varicose veins
  • History of DVT (Deep Venous Thrombosis)
  • Open wounds or infected wounds
  • Dialysis
  • Cancer
  • Severe High Blood pressure
  • Open fractures

It is very important to discuss your medical history completely and honestly with your Physical Therapist, so that the determination can be made whether or not you can undergo BFRT treatment safely and realize its many benefits.