One of the most important – and non-intuitive – movements that KAATSU inventor Dr. Sato has advocated for decades is Hand Clenches.
The standard KAATSU protocol is to repeatedly open and close your hand(s) while the KAATSU Air Bands are on your upper arms in the KAATSU Progressive Cycle mode (i.e., Low Pressure to Medium Pressure to higher pressures).
This is especially helpful for people who are in pain, missing a lower or upper body limb (and experiencing phantom pain and neuropathic pain), or recovering from surgery .
Hand clenches are part of the standard KAATSU 3-Point Exercises. The KAATSU Cycle mode very effectively, efficiently, safely, and gradually engorges the capillary beds in the lower arms in blood while the Hand Clenches are sufficient to build up lactate. As the Cycle sets and Hand Clenches continue, a dark pink or beefy red color appears and your veins are distended. The effect is similar to the photo shown below where one arm is impacted with inflated KAATSU Air Bands and the other arm is normal without KAATSU Air Bands on.
Dr. Nakajima found and explained in a paper (to be published in Q1 2023) that simple Hand Clenches while performing KAATSU Cycle sets are a highly efficient catalyst for producing β-Endorphin (Beta-Endorphin)and serum lactate. The β-Endorphin is produced in the brain’s pituitary gland that blocks the sensation of pain.
Dr. Sato explains,
“You can use a Hand Grip or just repeatedly squeeze a tennis ball or squeeze ball in the Progressive KAATSU Cycle mode. The phenomena starts when the automated pneumatic compression starts at lower pressures and then very gradually builds up to higher pressures. As you repeatedly and slowly squeeze your hands, lactate builds in your forearms. With the lactate build-up, growth hormone and IGF-1 (insulin growth factor) are also produced.”
Meanwhile, the very tiny capillaries in the injured (or amputated) limb gradually and efficiently become fully engorged with blood. The skin in the injured limb (or amputated stump) becomes pink, rosy, or even a deep red. The engorgement of the capillaries in blood leads to a hormonal response, a decrease in C-reactive protein, and an activation of the peripheral nerves. The C-reactive protein helps reduce pain while the activation of the peripheral nerves tricks the brain to think the amputated limb is intact in some way.
The number of KAATSU Progressive Cycle sets can be repeated throughout the day in several different sessions (in the morning, afternoon, and evening) in order to effectively manage the pain.
The photos below show the effect of engorgement of blood on the right hand and forearm due to the wearing of the KAATSU Air Band on one arm and not the other. The KAATSU Progressive Cycle mode repeatedly, progressively incrementally, slowly, and gently leads to this engorgement.
Other phenomena aid in the reduction of pain.
Dr. Nakajima explains,
“Exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH) is a reduction in pain sensitivity and/or perception of pain intensity to noxious stimuli following acute exercise. This is a temporary effect that occurs as a result of neurophysiological effects.
One hypothesized mechanism is the enhancement of descending pain. Inhibitory effect through activation of the endogenous pain inhibitory system that secretes antinociceptive substances. These substances include endorphins and endocannabinoids, both of which have been found to increase circulating concentrations after exercise. Although the mechanism is not well established, exercise that clears a single bout of either resistance or aerobic exercise causes hypoalgesia for up to 30 minutes in healthy, pain-free individuals.
EIH responses are more variable in individuals with chronic pain who are pain sensitive. The intensity may be decreased, unchanged, or even increased in response to exercise (i.e., hyperalgesia). Nevertheless, exercise is widely used as a therapeutic strategy for individuals with chronic pain. Movement with KAATSU also has the ability to reduce pain and reduce sensitivity in muscles and joints.
Experimental pain studies demonstrate that focal joint pain leads to decreased muscle function, impaired motor control, and fear-avoidance behavior patterns (i.e., avoidance of painful activities). Collectively, this can lead to a spiraling vicious cycle of bodily function that can increase the risk of developing chronic and degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis. Exercise interventions that can properly load the injured area, relieve pain, and increase muscle strength are presented as effective management systems that target the multiple factors in these complex conditions. Exercise has the ability to reduce pain and increase muscle strength, but this form of training can also increase the load on the injured area, exacerbating symptoms.
There are several studies investigating BFR and hypoalgesia. Additionally, many KAATSU Specialists in Japan have noticed about this phenomenon. A landmark study by Vasileios Korakakis in 2018 (Low load resistance training with blood flow restriction decreases anterior knee pain more than resistance training alone. A pilot randomised controlled trial) investigated the use of BFR in 30 male patients suffering from anterior knee pain. Their pain scores were significantly reduced while performing three common functional tasks in response to BFR.
Although there are increasing applications and growing evidence supporting the use of KAATSU in pain management, how and why KAATSU is effective remains, admittedly, a matter of speculation.
A 2019 review by Luke Hughes and Stephen David Patterson (Examination of the comfort and pain experienced with blood flow restriction training during post-surgery rehabilitation of anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction patients: A UK National Health Service trial) investigated some of the potential mechanisms by which BFR affects pain. This includes Conditioned Pain Modulation where the simplest way to describe conditioned pain regulation is the phrase ‘pain cures pain’. Although BFR is characterized by low-intensity training, the literature consistently reports pain and discomfort comparable to high-intensity exercise.
Secondly, it also includes the recruitment of fast-twitch fibers. This is a key mechanism behind BFR and hypoalgesia and may be a key factor in BFR and hypertrophy.
Thirdly, through the opioid and endocannabinoid system (that bind distinct receptors that co-localize in areas of the brain involved with the processing of pain signals), experiments with the KAATSU Cycle sets induce serum β-Endorphin.”