This past December Connor O’Mara suffered an ACL tear. While this is a common injury among athletes, that doesn’t make it any less serious. After having surgery right before Christmas, Connor began sports physical therapy at Park Nicollet in Minneapolis.

While recovery can often be long and slow, Connor’s therapist, Chris Kramer, PT, DPT, had a plan to help speed up the process: Blood Flow Restriction Therapy (BFR).

How it works

According to Kramer, BFR is a way to strengthen an area of the body that is weak or unable to tolerate pain.

To accomplish this, a blood pressure cuff is placed around the limb restricting blood flow return. The goal is not to restrict blood flow to the muscle, but to cause the blood to pool in the muscle.

“It helps patients who are typically weaker post-surgery to increase strength. It’s an easy, less aggressive way than standard exercising,” says Kramer. “In Connor’s case, he was already an athlete so he took to it really quickly. But this type of treatment works for anyone.”

BFR gained national attention last year thanks to NBA star Dwight Howard. Howard, who has dealt with serious knee issues, was able to bounce back after missing half of the prior season thanks to regular BFR training.

“The physical therapy benefits for athletes are clear,” says Kramer. “But I think the real benefit is going to be for those with total knee and joint procedures. BFR can help people get back on their feet in a much shorter amount of time.”

Proof in performance

In Connor’s case, the science of BFR wasn’t his main concern.

“I wanted to know when I could get back to playing soccer, biking, and just generally working out again,” he said. “I had a friend who had the same injury and he was out of action for four months. It looked awful and I was nervous that I’d have the same experience.”

Connor began BFR with Kramer on Jan. 6, just two weeks after surgery. In less than three weeks, he was already able to bike. He was also doing squats, balance exercises, and jogging on the treadmill.

“I’m a pretty positive person in general, but working with Chris and using the BFR allowed me to get ahead of schedule. It made a huge difference in motivating me,” Connor said.

Park Nicollet and TRIA Orthopaedic Center are the first in Minnesota to offer this service. There are currently 26 BFR therapists across four locations. Plans are in place to expand this program into the new TRIA location in Woodbury and seven additional Park Nicollet locations in the near future.

“This is the biggest thing to hit rehab in the past 10 years,” he said.

See BFR in action

KSTP stopped by our Park Nicollet Clinic in Plymouth to learn what it looks like to get this innovative therapy. Watch the clip here!