Nowadays, individuals in the fitness community seek all means to improve tissue recovery, mobility and overall sense of wellbeing post workout by implementing tools to help them do so. Thera-guns, foam rollers, compression garments, elastic therapeutic tapes (Kinesiology tapes), electric muscle stimulation (EMS) devices and even ice bathes are all common ways for individuals to recover post exercise to feel better before the next workout. With this constant evolution of recovery modalities taking place, a new technique called flossing is starting to become more popular. Flossing, also known as compressional band therapy, is a manual technique by which a band is tied around a joint or limb to improve range of motion, fluid dynamics, pain mitigation and recovery rates. The mechanism of its functioning is based on creating a compression of the skin and its underlying layers by wrapping the floss band, which are typically long narrow bands made from latex, around a limb or joint.
To fully understand the mechanism of action, one must understand what is happening underneath the skin when the floss band is being applied. The skin is composed of multiple layers that glide on top of one another. The epidermis, which is the outermost surface of our skin, contains large amounts of sensory receptors that detect mechanical deformation of skin, movement, touch, heat, cold and pain. Deep to the epidermis lies the superficial fascia (SF) and deep fascia (DF). These layers of fascia are essentially bands of fibrous connective tissue that stabilize and enclose muscles and other internal organs that they surround. Both the SF and DF are interconnected by skin ligaments. The skin ligaments determine the mobility of the skin over the deep structures by allowing or restricting the amount of movement in between each layer.
When the floss band is applied on the surface of the skin, it promotes interlayer compression between the epidermis, the SF and the DF. Furthermore, interlayer gliding occurs given that the tissue is being manipulated correctly creating a perpendicular stress on the skin ligaments. The interlayer gliding may be influenced externally or internally depending on the means of each individual. An external glide works whereby an external force (e.g. Therapists hand) grabs the floss and creates a tangential oscillation (Shaking motion) to move the layers of skin against one another. An internal glide is created when the floss band is applied onto the surface of the skin of the patient while he or she performs a movement to change the length of muscles that run underneath the floss to create the desired gliding in between layers. This compressional interlayer gliding increases the amount of stress that will be placed on the skin ligaments which will then promote a response in the brain to increase mobility and active range of motion. Alongside the skin ligaments, the sensory reception of the band on the skin further promotes this response by stimulating the receptors found in the skin. This portrays the notion that the skin is not only a barrier from our inside to outside, but it is also a communication system from our body to our brain.
Furthermore, flossing is also a great technique to treat edema (swelling) within acute or chronic individuals. By wrapping the band at the far end of the swollen area, the band will squeeze and move the fluid found in between the SF and DF to decrease the amount of swelling. While performing a muscular contraction, this will additionally increase the fluid movement to the lymph nodes so as to be excreted from the body.
Flossing can be used by all individuals and is not restricted to an athletic population. Improving range of motion and joint centration while reducing pain and fluid congestion are all benefits that are brought upon by flossing. So next time you go and train, give flossing a try, you might be surprised by all the positive outcomes that may follow!