Former UFC champ Robbie Lawler rehabs knee at Sanford Health

Pro athletes, weekend warriors alike benefit from blood flow restriction therapy

Former UFC champ Robbie Lawler exercises his knee with physical therapist Melissa Moyer holding her hands under his leg.

Robbie Lawler, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship title winner, underwent surgery and physical therapy at Sanford Health in South Dakota on a knee injured during a December 2017 fight in Winnipeg, Canada.

Lawler, the No. 11-ranked UFC welterweight, said the surgery went well and he recovered at home in Florida. He is headlining a UFC card against Coby Covington on Aug. 3 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

“They got me to the point where I can walk and actually use my leg again,” he said of the rehabilitation at Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. “I thought I was going to leave a lot earlier, but my leg wasn’t quite ready for it. Just get my body moving, my muscles firing again and get the swelling down.”

Lawler said he chose Sanford Health orthopedic surgeonĀ Brad Reeves, M.D., after talking to several other physicians and Reeves himself. Reeves now serves as physician for a team being organized by Lawler, Dave Martin and Henri Hooft.

“I just felt comfortable with what he was bringing to the table. He made me feel that I made the right choice. My surgery went great. It’s just one of those things where I had a feeling that this was the place to go,” Lawler said.

Sanford Health is one of seven health systems nationally to use a type of physical therapy called blood flow restriction. That entails putting a tourniquet on the limb to restrict blood flow and deplete the muscles and tissue of oxygen, said Melissa Moyer, doctor of physical therapy.

“That sets off a whole cascade of physiological events that release different hormones that stress the body so the body thinks it’s working like it’s pushing a ton of bricks, but you’re only pushing 20 pounds or so. Your body releases those human growth hormones and allows the healing of the tissues based on that increase in stress response from the body,” Moyer said.

Sanford Health now offers blood flow restriction in most of its physical therapy clinics. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit. Patients recovering from injuries or surgery have used BFR. Older adults with arthritis also benefit from it, Moyer said.

Lawler said it was the first time he used that type of physical therapy.

“It’s awesome. But it’s rough. You’re not moving very much weight, but you’re feeling like you’re moving a ton,” he said. “It helped with recovery because I feel like my legs got stronger a lot faster.”

Moyer said it’s rewarding to work with a professional athlete like Lawler.

“There’s a different level of intensity and tolerance to pain that he has, for sure. I can’t always trust having him tell me when to stop because that’s hard for a fighter to say. So I’ve been pushing him harder than we typically probably do on an average patient or younger athlete,” she said.

“It makes me pull out all the stops and step up my game.”

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Posted In Orthopedics, Sports Medicine

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