Blood Flow Restriction Therapy Preserves Lower Extremity Bone and Muscle Mass After ACL Reconstruction

Robert A. Jack, Bradley S. Lambert, Corbin A. Hedt, Domenica Delgado, Haley Goble, Patrick C. McCulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Muscle atrophy is common after an injury to the knee and anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (ACLR). Blood flow restriction therapy (BFR) combined with low-load resistance exercise may help mitigate muscle loss and improve the overall condition of the lower extremity (LE). Purpose: To determine whether BFR decreases the loss of LE lean mass (LM), bone mass, and bone mineral density (BMD) while improving function compared with standard rehabilitation after ACLR. Study Design: Randomized controlled clinical trial Methods: A total of 32 patients undergoing ACLR with bone-patellar tendon-bone autograft were randomized into 2 groups (CONTROL: N = 15 [male = 7, female = 8; age = 24.1 ± 7.2 years; body mass index [BMI] = 26.9 ± 5.3 kg/m2] and BFR: N = 17 [male = 12, female = 5; age = 28.1 ± 7.4 years; BMI = 25.2 ± 2.8 kg/m2]) and performed 12 weeks of postsurgery rehabilitation with an average follow-up of 2.3 ± 1.0 years. Both groups performed the same rehabilitation protocol. During select exercises, the BFR group exercised under 80% arterial occlusion of the postoperative limb (Delfi tourniquet system). BMD, bone mass, and LM were measured using DEXA (iDXA, GE) at presurgery, week 6, and week 12 of rehabilitation. Functional measures were recorded at week 8 and week 12. Return to sport (RTS) was defined as the timepoint at which ACLR-specific objective functional testing was passed at physical therapy. A group-by-time analysis of covariance followed by a Tukey’s post hoc test were used to detect within- and between-group changes. Type I error; α = 0.05. Results: Compared with presurgery, only the CONTROL group experienced decreases in LE-LM at week 6 (−0.61 ± 0.19 kg, −6.64 ± 1.86%; P < 0.01) and week 12 (−0.39 ± 0.15 kg, −4.67 ± 1.58%; P = 0.01) of rehabilitation. LE bone mass was decreased only in the CONTROL group at week 6 (−12.87 ± 3.02 g, −2.11 ± 0.47%; P < 0.01) and week 12 (−16.95 ± 4.32 g,−2.58 ± 0.64%; P < 0.01). Overall, loss of site-specific BMD was greater in the CONTROL group (P < 0.05). Only the CONTROL group experienced reductions in proximal tibia (−8.00 ± 1.10%; P < 0.01) and proximal fibula (−15.0±2.50%,P < 0.01) at week 12 compared with presurgery measures. There were no complications. Functional measures were similar between groups. RTS time was reduced in the BFR group (6.4 ± 0.3 months) compared with the CONTROL group (8.3 ± 0.5 months; P = 0.01). Conclusion: After ACLR, BFR may decrease muscle and bone loss for up to 12 weeks postoperatively and may improve time to RTS with functional outcomes comparable with those of standard rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSports Health
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • ACL
  • anterior cruciate ligament
  • blood flow restriction
  • rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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