Enhanced muscle blood flow with intermittent pneumatic compression of the lower leg during plantar flexion exercise and recovery

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Feb 1;124(2):302-311. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00784.2017. Epub 2017 Nov 9.


This study tested the hypothesis that intermittent compression of the lower limb would increase blood flow during exercise and postexercise recovery. Data were collected from 12 healthy individuals (8 men) who performed 3 min of standing plantar flexion exercise. The following three conditions were tested: no applied compression (NoComp), compression during the exercise period only (ExComp), and compression during 2 min of standing postexercise recovery. Doppler ultrasound was used to determine superficial femoral artery (SFA) blood flow responses. Mean arterial pressure (MAP) and cardiac stroke volume (SV) were assessed using finger photoplethysmography, with vascular conductance (VC) calculated as VC = SFA flow/MAP. Compared with the NoComp condition, compression resulted in increased MAP during exercise [+3.5 ± 4.1 mmHg (mean ± SD)] but not during postexercise recovery (+1.6 ± 5.9 mmHg). SV increased with compression during both exercise (+4.8 ± 5.1 ml) and recovery (+8.0 ± 6.6 ml) compared with NoComp. There was a greater increase in SFA flow with compression during exercise (+52.1 ± 57.2 ml/min) and during recovery (+58.6 ± 56.7 ml/min). VC immediately following exercise was also significantly greater in the ExComp condition compared with the NoComp condition (+0.57 ± 0.42 ml·min-1·mmHg-1), suggesting the observed increase in blood flow during exercise was in part because of changes in VC. Results from this study support the hypothesis that intermittent compression applied during exercise and recovery from exercise results in increased limb blood flow, potentially contributing to changes in exercise performance and recovery. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Blood flow to working skeletal muscle is achieved in part through the rhythmic actions of the skeletal muscle pump. This study demonstrated that the application of intermittent pneumatic compression during the diastolic phase of the cardiac cycle, to mimic the mechanical actions of the muscle pump, accentuates muscle blood flow during exercise and elevates blood flow during the postexercise recovery period. Intermittent compression during and after exercise might have implications for exercise performance and recovery.

Keywords: Doppler ultrasound; muscle pump; second heart; vascular conductance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diastole
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Intermittent Pneumatic Compression Devices*
  • Leg / blood supply*
  • Male
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Young Adult