Kyle Shortsleeve spent six years on active duty in the U.S. Army before retiring in 2015 due to osteoarthritis in his knee. “There were a lot of injuries to my knee over time,” Shortsleeve said. “While serving in Afghanistan, I suffered a bad twist to my knee while stepping out of a vehicle. I also suffered a torn meniscus during a Special Forces assessment. It was a combination of these joint injuries over time that led to osteoarthritis.”
Osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide and is the most common form of arthritis. The debilitating disease led to Shortsleeve having a partial knee replacement surgery in 2017. His physical therapy brought him to Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute, where he learned about a form of treatment called blood flow restriction (BFR) therapy.
The Basics of BFR Therapy
During BFR therapy, a blood pressure cuff, or tourniquet, is placed on an injured arm or leg to reduce blood flow to the extremity, which helps activate the muscles without putting extra weight on the joints. Restricting the blood flow makes muscles work harder, making even the most basic exercise feel extremely difficult. This allows patients whose joint repairs prohibit them from doing weight-bearing exercises to regain their strength after surgery without injuring their joints during recovery.
“I was fortunate to get to use this technique after my surgery,” Shortsleeve said. “I’ve always been physically active and I didn’t want to lose that progress. Even if I was doing low-impact exercises, the BFR would make it feel like I was getting a weightlifter pump.”
Getting More from Therapy Sessions with BFR
A year after his surgery, Shortsleeve still uses the BFR on a regular basis.
“Kyle was able to strengthen and tolerate more exercise with the BFR, allowing him to be more active and get more out of his therapy sessions,” said Dorcas Copa, Kyle’s physical therapist at Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. “Knowing the extent of his injury and how long rehab was going to take, Kyle demonstrated above-average discipline and resolve throughout his treatments.”
Working with injured veterans to help them regain strength and ability is a rewarding aspect of the role of physical therapists at the Institute.
“I am always grateful for the privilege to participate in the wellness and recovery of my patients; however, it was special to have a patient who was willing to sacrifice for his country if the need arose,” said Copa. “I was glad to have the opportunity to give back by helping him reach his goals.”
BFR Training for Wounded Veterans and Injured Professional Athletes
Johnny Owens, MPT, has been using BFR in San Antonio on wounded veterans for several years. The training technique was shared with Dr. Walter Lowe, Director of the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute and chairman of the department of Orthopedic Surgery at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Dr. Lowe introduced BFR to the Houston Texans locker room in 2014 and later made sure that BFR was available in all of The Institute’s clinics.
The Institute offers tailored training to match any level of competition from recreational to professional. Whether the goal is increased power and strength, altered body composition, improved cardiovascular conditioning or injury prevention or recovery, the Institute’s strength and conditioning specialists have the expertise to move athletes to higher levels of performance.
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