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How “Muscle Flossing” Can Improve Mobility and Decrease Pain
by Kelsey Maloney

Searching for a new way to increase your flexibility and possibly decrease pain after an intense workout? Look no further than the technique called muscle flossing.

Muscle flossing, also commonly referred to as voodoo flossing, is a compression technique that involves wrapping a muscle group or joint tightly with a resistance band while stretching or conducting certain movements. While it’s popularity remains mostly in the CrossFit and bodybuilding communities, it’s starting to gain traction among all athletes as it also may offer a faster recovery to muscles and joints.

Keep reading to learn more about what it is, the benefits, and how to safely do it yourself.

What is muscle flossing?

Typically done before or after a sporting event or workout, exercisers can floss their muscles by very tightly wrapping a special latex rubber band around a specific muscle or joint, which compresses a targeted area. Once the wrap is applied, you can partake in various stretches and movements.

“Voodoo floss can be a great tool to make short-term improvements in joint mobility and/or muscle flexibility—perfect for your pre-workout warmup,” says Dr. Georgio Baylouny of Physio RX.

Here’s the breakdown: when you floss your muscles, you’re constricting blood flow to the wrapped area. Once the wrap is applied, you perform movements/exercises. After you’re done with your movement, you remove the wrap. When the wrap is removed, blood rushes back to the area and floods it with oxygen and nutrients.

The most common areas to muscle floss include hamstrings, ankles, elbows, shoulders, triceps, knees, and biceps.

The benefits of muscle flossing

“Muscle flossing can be a great way to improve flexibility in a muscle or joint,” says Dr. Baylouny. “One of the best times to use it is before a workout, especially if you’re feeling a little ‘tighter’ that day in a certain area.” 

It may also offer some temporary pain relief by decreasing the perception of tightness in a certain area, which can lead to improvements in muscle soreness.

So, why does muscle flossing work? “Here’s the interesting thing: the medical community isn’t exactly sure why this stuff works,” says. Dr. Baylouny. “We do know, however, that any sort of mobility tool is creating short term perceptions in increased mobility through manipulating the nervous system.” 

There are some theories as to what the floss is exactly doing, Dr. Baylouny explains one which “includes shearing and gliding of the layers of the skin and muscle fascia, communicating with the nervous system to bring awareness to a certain area, and improving joint gliding.”

As muscle flossing is a fairly new technique, the research on it is still evolving. “Some things that muscle floss definitely isn’t doing is breaking up scar tissue or re-releasing nutrients to the area,” says Dr. Baylouny. “Some big brands may make these claims, but these simply just aren’t true. Don’t get me wrong, flossing can work, we just aren’t entirely sure how.”

That said, if you’re feeling a little sore before a workout, you can give muscle flossing a try for some improvements in pain or mobility.

However, note that there’s a difference between a little post-workout soreness and persistent pain. “If the soreness is consistently causing a decrease in your performance or even preventing you from working out—a little floss wrap isn’t going to fix the problem,” says Dr. Baylouny. “Get assessed by a physical therapist who has experience working with your goals.”

How to safely muscle floss

Interested in trying muscle flossing? Consulting a physical therapist or doctor is always a good idea before trying any new therapy technique. Then, check out these beginner tips from Dr. Baylouny:

Choose a limitation in mobility. Most common areas are usually ankle dorsiflexion, hip rotation, hamstring length, or shoulder rotation.

Wrap your muscle at 50 percent tension. This means about half the stretch the band is capable of and 50 percent overlap as you wrap.

When your joint is wrapped (always at 50 percent tension and 50 percent overlap), move into the restricted range of motion about 20 times, or 60 seconds. No need to add 10 minutes on the warmup or floss your entire body…move it and move on!

He also explains that you don’t want to wrap too tight or keep it on for too long as these bands can cut off circulation. “You can mix it into your warm-up routine. Wrap for a minute or two, stretch or move around a bit, then floss again.” 

That said, you should structure your workout to include the application and removal of the bands and you should not floss more than one body part at a time. If you’re a beginner, only work on a range of motion movements while flossing and don’t add any resistance. 

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.