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Using Blood Flow Restriction

Dr. Mariel’s Knee Rehab Journey

In the August of 2021 I was in attendance at the USA Ultimate Frisbee Pro Championships, competing with my team, Portland Schwa, who represents the state of Oregon in the women’s club division. I have been an elite level Ultimate Frisbee player for 12 years, getting my start as a freshman in college and never looking back.

I have had many injuries in my career as an athlete (that is one of the reasons I became a physical therapist!), but little did I know that the next morning I would sustain the worst injury of my athletic career – a ruptured patellar tendon in my left knee.

The patellar tendon is one of the largest tendons in the body, responsible for the ‘extensor mechanism’ of the lower extremity, which in simple terms means straightening the knee, using your quadriceps muscle, and doing every day things like walking, jogging and jumping. Needless to say, it is a very important tendon!

I had surgery on September 15, 2021 to repair the torn tendon, and so began the long road to a full recovery.

I knew that the rehab was going to be long and tough! I wasn’t even allowed to bear weight on my left leg for a whole month after surgery, meaning my quadriceps muscle was going to become very small and weak, leading to a greater risk of injury later in my athletic career. Staying up to date on the latest research in orthopedics, I knew that using blood flow restriction therapy throughout my recovery was going to be imperative to limit the muscle atrophy, and speed up the healing and recovery process. Having used the Owens Recovery Science Blood Flow Restriction unit in my earlier days as a physical therapist in Portland, I saw the profound effect it had on my clients both post-operatively and with your everyday aches and pains.

I took the BFR course and got myself the unit, which is a state of the art computerized system that measures the blood pressures in my leg in real time. Read our blog post here to learn more about BFR, when and why to use it. I began to use the unit almost every day, working on range of motion at first, and then adding in more active movements as my body and the rehab timeline allowed. Even my surgeon was impressed at my 12 week follow up, saying “wow, that blood flow restriction therapy really seems to be helping!”

Scar tissue release!
Electric stimulation for my quad!

I had a lot of help from my fellow practitioners as well, getting acupuncture therapy regularly from Dr. Courtney and Kileen, as well as using the many therapies offered at Well Balanced – including electric stimulation to help the nerves of my leg work more effectively, and the class IV laser to reduce swelling and scar tissue formation. I cannot thank them enough for all of the help they gave me while I was recovering!

As my knee began to heal, and the quad muscle became stronger, I started to complete my list of ‘firsts.’ I know that the timelines of these firsts was made possible by the therapy I was receiving, as well as the consistency with doing my exercises and using the BFR machine. Relearning how to walk is no joke! My experience here was a good reminder of what it is like to be the patient during rehab.

First jump!
First real steps, sans crutches!

I was now using my BFR machine at least 3 times per week, both during strength exercises like squats and step ups, and endurance exercises like cycling. I worked up to using the machine twice in one session, and it felt good to be able to exercise and safely improve the strength of my leg without overloading the tissues.

Kettlebell Goblet Squats using BFR
Box Step Ups using BFR
Endurance Cycling using BFR

I continued to work hard in PT, and now, at 7 months post surgery, I am doing so many things! I can squat pretty heavy weight, jump rope, hike and jump. I still have a long way to go to get back to playing ultimate frisbee competitively, but I am grateful for my BFR recovery and I am hopeful for what the future brings.

Heavy Back Squat
Jump Roping
Broad Jump

Want to see how to use the Owens Recovery Science Blood Flow Restriction Unit in action? Click here to see how it works!