Feb 23, 2015
Turning to Tourniquets

“Tourniquet training”—also known as blood flow restriction training (BRF)—has been a popular way to help injured soldiers rehabilitate injuries. Now it’s starting to gain traction in athletic training rooms as well, with the Houston Texans leading the way, as detailed in a pair of articles on ESPN.com, from November and last week

  • In tourniquet training, a pneumatic surgical tourniquet is applied to an injured limb while a patient does low-resistance strength training.
  • According to an article from the United States Army website, the resulting restriction of blood flow tells the body to use fast-twitch muscle fibers that are typically employed during high-resistance exercises. The brain then releases substances like human growth hormone at a higher rate. This allows the bodies of injured athletes who can only lift light weights to react as if they were lifting heavier weights, which promotes strength gains.
  • The Texans had several injured players, including last year’s top draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, utilize BFR training in their rehab work.

Johnny Owens, a physical therapist and Chief of Human Performance Optimization at the Center for the Intrepid (CFI) at Brooke Army Medical Center, presented research on the technique to teams at the recent NFL combine. He has found that some patients see strength gains of 50 to 80 percent in a few weeks and that BFR can be especially effective after torn ACLs and ruptured patellar tendons:

“BFR training allows [injured individuals] to gain strength and improve their function without compromising vulnerable joints or soft tissue,” he said.

Geoff Kaplan, the Texans’ Director of Sports Medicine, relayed that the team is pleased with the results so far:

“The athletes [undergoing BFR training] are exhibiting better muscle control and making progressions — like moving from double-leg activities to single-leg — faster than what we typically see,” he said.

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