Increasing Strength Through the Use of Blood Flow Restriction
By Matt Flanigan, DPT, Cert BFR
AZOPT Goodyear Doctor of Physical Therapy

What is Blood Flow Restriction?

In a rehabilitation or exercise setting, blood flow restriction (BFR) can be very useful to improve strength and increase muscle mass. Essentially, we use a specialized blood pressure cuff to partially close off the vessels that bring blood to an extremity. We only partially obstruct the blood flow, which prevents any tissue damage from occurring. Then, with the cuff still on, you will perform light resistance exercise or even cardio for a defined interval.

How does BFR work?

The limited supply of oxygen stimulates the brain to release chemicals that lead to muscle growth. It’s the same process that occurs naturally when you lift heavy weight to exhaustion or exercise to the point where muscles reach failure. If you’re familiar with getting a good “pump”, then you have experienced this too.

What are the benefits?

There are multiple benefits to trying BFR. If you have a new injury or recently underwent surgery, you may be unable to exercise normally. This results in loss of strength and size in your muscles. Someone who is older, or more frail, could also benefit because only a fraction of the weight normally required to build strength is used. BFR is much easier on joints and does not increase arthritic pain. Lastly, even fit, healthy people can try it to improve upon muscular strength without the need to perform a one rep max.

Blood flow restriction is another tool to meet fitness goals. It is not the answer for everyone, and it is not a magic bullet, but it could be a very effective addition to your physical therapy or physical activity regimen. Blood flow restriction should only be performed under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. If you are interested in more information, please contact me directly at