Mercy Health announces new research findings from orthopaedic surgeon and knee expert Frank Noyes, MD that can help patients build the strength they need to lower the risk of reinjury following ACL repair surgery. The research findings can also help patients who need build up muscle strength prior to having surgery.

As many as 300,000 people in the United States and millions worldwide require ACL reconstruction surgery to restore stability to the knee following injury. 

“Six months after surgery, most ACL repair patients don’t yet have a return to muscle strength and as many as one in five will reinjure themselves because of this,” says Dr. Noyes.

Lack of muscle strength also affects patients who can’t exercise due to arthritis, yet must build strength prior to surgery that will help alleviate their pain.

Dr. Noyes and his team looked at the potential for patients to build strength easily and at low weight by restricting blood flow during a short set of exercises.

“Weight lifters in Japan have used this method to build strength for 20 years. The question was how can we use this method safely with patients,” says Dr. Noyes. 

Dr. Noyes’ findings pave the way to help ACL repair and reconstruction patients, as well as arthritic patients who need knee replacement surgery.

“We found that exercising with a blood pressure cuff for just five minutes tricks the muscle into thinking it’s doing a strenuous work out,” says Dr. Noyes. “The reduced blood flow, even at low weight resistance, causes the body to generate lactic acid and chemicals that stimulate the muscle and help build strength. In other words, it causes ‘the burn’ that signals a tough, muscle-building workout.”

The cuff, used at half pressure, do not block the artery and that patients can complete an effective, three-set workout in 15 minutes.

"Patients who were only able to lift at 30-40% of their ability have seen 15-20% strength improvements after nine 15-minute exercise sessions over three weeks. They will gain another 15-20% in strength if they continue the exercises for another three weeks,” says Dr. Noyes.

Best of all, with training on using the cuff and how to time their exercise sessions, patients can complete the exercise program at home.

“Based on our findings, we believe that if patients start this exercise program as soon as three months after surgery, this is the most efficient way to get an athlete back into their sport safely,” said Dr. Noyes. “It also benefits arthritic patients who can build up the strength they need to have surgery in just eight to 12 weeks.”

The Journal of Sports Health published “Blood Flow–Restricted Training for Lower Extremity Muscle Weakness due to Knee Pathology: A Systematic Review” by Sue Barber-Westin, BS, and Frank R. Noyes, MD on November 26, 2018.