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Blood Flow Restriction for Knee Osteoarthritis

Blood Flow Restriction for Knee Osteoarthritis

by Tanner Neuberger, PT, DPT, TDN Level 1Leave a Comment

Knee pain can be a very troublesome nuisance to a majority of the population; whether knees are sore from a long day of activity or have been persistently sore from those glory days long ago. Knee pain can affect quality of life in many different ways including decreasing activity levels, making it uncomfortable to maintain certain postures for prolonged periods of time, or making it bothersome to go up and down stairs at home. Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is among the common knee-related conditions affecting quality of life – especially in the older population. In fact, knee OA is present in nearly 40 percent of individuals older than 60.

Treatment for Knee OA

One way to ease the pain of knee OA is to strengthen the quadriceps muscle group (the muscles in the front of your thighs). Weak quads are not only a risk factor for development of OA, but also a main determinant in the physical functioning of women with Knee OA.1,2 Strengthening the quads can be a bit of a double-edged sword because it can lead to increased knee pain in the individual, as resistance needs to be heavy enough to stimulate gains in strength and size. This is where blood flow restriction (BFR) training comes into play. With BFR, blood flow to the muscle is reduced, which will in turn create an environment deprived of oxygen. What this means is that you can build muscle and strength with less weight, reducing the pain of exercise for those with knee OA.

During BFR training, a restriction cuff is used to reduce blood flow in a targeted tissue. The restriction cuff (much like a blood pressure cuff) is put in one of two places on the body, either below the shoulder or below the hip. Enough pressure is then applied (specific to YOU) to do two things: close your veins off completely (this is done to keep blood in the targeted limb), and restrict arteries to reduce the blood flow to a limb to stimulate the effects. This oxygen disparity causes a cascade of hormonal and physiological responses, the main ones you should familiarize yourself with are hypoxia (or reduced oxygen) in the target tissue, and an increase in growth hormone levels (or more potential for muscle growth)! All of this is accomplished with less weight than you would need if you were to train without the restriction cuffs. Less weight means less joint stress when exercising, and for those with knee OA, less pain. If you are concerned about the reduced oxygen supply to a tissue, have no fear because the time spent in this environment is minimal and when performed under the supervision of a trained professional, has been proven safe and effective in research and clinical practice.

Research Shows…

For those that still need a little convincing, or some reassurance that this isn’t too good to be true, there was a wonderful study performed with you in mind, as the target population of the study was persons with Knee OA; in this case, women. The objective was to see if they could increase strength and size of the quads of the individuals in the study using BFR as a supplemental activity. The findings showed that light-weight resistance training with BFR was just as effective as high-weight resistance training, but the added benefit was less pain reported with the BFR individuals. The high-weight resistance training group had a 25 percent drop-out rate due to pain, so a quarter of the people quit because they had too much pain while exercising! Kind of defeats the purpose, right? Even more interesting was the group that used light-weight resistance without BFR, had results that were very much subpar in comparison to the light-weight with BFR group.3

Our Experts Can Help!

Whether your knee OA diagnosis is relatively recent, or you have been living with it for years, the experts at Athletico can help to manage your symptoms. It takes a little work and dedication to the process, but BFR may be able to help with your condition. Click the link below to find a local Athletico clinic that offers BFR to find out if it’s right for you so you can get back to doing the things you love to do.

Find a BFR Clinic near you!

1. Takagi S, Omori G, Koga H, et al. Quadriceps muscle weakness is related to increased risk of radiographic knee OA but not its progression in both women and men: the Matsudai Knee osteoarthritis Survey. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2017; [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1007/s00167-017-4551-5
2. Nur H, Sertkaya BS, Tuncer T. Determinants of physical functioning in women with knee osteoarthritis. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2017; [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1007/s40520-017-0784-x
3. Ferraz et al. Benefits of Resistance Training with Blood Flow Restriction in Knee Osteoarthritis. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 50, No. 5, pp. 897-905, 2018

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Physical Therapyblood flow restriction therapyknee osteoarthritisknee pain

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