Cutting off blood flow can help athletes heal faster

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

When former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb walks into the Fischer Institute for physical therapy, there is no missing his energy or sense of humor. When someone jokes the Giants are looking for a quarterback. He says he's "not on duty."

McNabb may not be looking to re-join the NFL, but he is looking to stay in top shape.

"You have to challenge yourself," he says. And after more than a decade in the NFL, that means his shoulders can use some rehab.

But as anyone who has had a sports injury or surgery knows, you can't re-build by using heavy weights. Some athletes, especially in the NFL, use something called Blood Flow Restriction. This is a process where you actually use a cuff, much like the doctor takes your blood pressure with, to cut off circulation while exercising.

"So much of the NFL uses this on a daily basis because the players are so sore they cannot use a lot of weight on an injury," said Brett Fischer who is a physical therapy consultant with the Cardinals. "For the upper body, research has shown 50 percent occlusion, which means you are cutting off 50 percent of the arterial flow."

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Cardinals]

While the cuff cuts off blood flow anywhere from 50 to 80 percent, the patient exercises, using very light weight, putting less stress on the muscle.

"It is tricking the brain into thinking we are lifting heavy weights but you really are not," said Fischer. "And it allows the physiology of the brain to secrete certain hormones to improve strength and also healing."

In McNabb's case he is using 80 pounds for this exercise, about a third of what he would do without the cuff. "I probably would have about 220 pounds; it’s at 80 pounds now," he says.

The workout session lasts about five minutes, Fischer says, "And in that five minutes research has shown significant amount of hormones released from the pituitary into the muscle system."

And Fischer says it is not just for athletes, "It means people with osteoarthritis who can’t put a lot of weight to strengthen your muscles can now get stronger with super light weights but won’t irritate them but help them get stronger with less pain."

The device Fischer uses is FDA approved, and this is one of only two Arizona clinics using it, Fischer says giving patients more gain with less pain, "So we are seeing improvement in strength significantly faster by using the blood flow restriction."

Fischer does have a warning, he says some people have tried to do this on their own, trying to cut circulation with homemade tourniquets he says that is dangerous and can lead to blood clots. The machine he uses measures the amount of blockage accurately because it is a medical grade device.

For more info click here: the Fischer Institute

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