If you have been in the fitness and wellness industry for a while, then you have most likely heard of the recovery tool called compression bands, or floss.
This tool is also sometimes called voodoo straps or blood-flow-restriction bands.
If you’re a little hesitant about adding this to your tool kit, I’m here to tell you compression band therapy is a beautifully simple tool that will make your work as a massage therapist easier and effective. It’s also the pain management tool your clients will love to keep using outside of your therapy sessions.
Compression bands, or flossing, will keep the treatment going long after they have left your table, chair or mat.
Before my journey into massage 10 years ago, I was a certified personal trainer and degreed nutritionist. Having a combination of both a fitness background and a wellness background has gifted me with many opportunities and insights into combining the two industries into a philosophy I have built into a successful medical and sports massage business, FIT Therapy ATX, in Austin, Texas.
5 Things Compression Bands Accomplish
Real quick, let us answer the question: “What is flossing?”
Perhaps you’re envisioning a dentist’s chair and a very kind dental assistant showing you how to properly use a very long piece of wax string between your teeth.
This is not that kind of floss.
Here are five things that flossing, or compression band therapy, does for your body:
1. Compression and shearing (influencing the fascial gliding effect): Flossing improves range of motion and heat production.
2. Desensitization: Flossing helps with pain reduction.
4. Fluid manipulation: Flossing reduces fluid congestion.
4. Sensory/motor control manipulation: Flossing improves the relationship between mind and body.
5. Placebo: belief equals relief.
Heat + Friction
One way I like to describe flossing to my clients is with the original 1984 movie “The Karate Kid,” where Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), claps his hands together when his pupil Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) took a devastatingly illegal blow to his already bum knee by his arch enemy during the finals of a city-wide karate tournament.
The heat and friction Mr. Miyagi created with his hands was able to penetrate so deep into his pupil’s muscle that it released whatever guarding spasm, or guarding reflex, that his body was producing to keep Daniel from injuring himself further) and re-establish Daniel’s sensory-motor relationship with his knee just long enough to go back into the fight.
I’ll let you guess who won.
In the movie, we never really get to see what Mr. Miyagi did to Daniel’s leg, exactly. Thus, I am assuming a ton of compression, along with the heat production and joint manipulation, is what got Daniel back on his feet. Far reaching? I don’t think so.
The takeaway is flossing has the same potential for musculoskeletal manipulation as Mr. Miyagi’s hands — just subtract all the cinematic drama. This is accomplished through heat production, pain reduction, fluid manipulation, and sensory/motor control resuscitation.
Fast forward to today, and scientists are conducting research on flossing that could highlight its benefits:
• “Tissue flossing: a new short-term compression therapy for reducing exercise-induced delayed-onset muscle soreness. A randomized, controlled and double-blind pilot crossover trial” indicated that tissue flossing “appears to be an effective method for treating DOMS which is slightly less effective but much more practicable than gold standard treatment,” the study authors wrote.
• “Tissue flossing on ankle range of motion, jump and sprint performance: A follow-up study” indicated there “is a trend towards a benefit for the use of floss bands applied to the ankle joint to improve ROM, jump and sprint performance in recreational athletes for up to 45-min following their application,” the study authors wrote.
Compression Bands for Self-Care
Now that we have a general sense of the claims of the benefits of flossing, let’s talk about who benefits most from it.
For one, just look in the mirror. If you are a therapist who puts their money where their hands are, then the next person you must add flossing to their daily/weekly active recovery regimen is you. Massage therapists work hard, and we need to recover even harder from a full day of clients.
I personally utilize flossing at least twice a week for my ankles, quads, hamstrings, and my sacroiliac joint.
When you add flossing to your recovery regimen, you will see for yourself. There is a plethora of YouTube tutorials on how to utilize flossing, and when you are sold on how much better you feel with floss in your life, add some formal education to take your clients’ recovery game to the next level.
In my massage business, I have utilized flossing on almost all of my clients, regardless of age or injury. The opportunity compression therapy creates for a client to self-manage their pain and recovery is paramount to their overall health and wellness status.
Compression Bands Help Clients Move & Feel Better
Here are a few examples of how flossing helped my clients move and feel better:
A client suffers from chronic sacroiliac joint pain from his job as a hairstylist at a busy salon. After performing our clinical assessments, we could see a radical imbalance between his abductor and adductor complexes.
Applying a 4-inch floss band across his hips created an instantaneous effect of relief – demonstrating not just the pain-relieving effects of floss, but also the importance of neurosensory stimulation to areas where injury or trauma may be harbored. In other words, his brain could connect to his hips!
I also utilize this technique after a long day on my feet, and the relief is glorious. Couple it with some hip mobility and isometric exercises, and you have a prescription for healing with minimal effort.
A client enters the clinic, limping. He is an older gentleman and his manual labor job as a carpenter has taken a toll on his body. On top of that, he has been walking around on two broken ankles for the past few decades. There was minimal-to-zero range of motion in his ankles.
Applying floss to his ankles and taking him through active and passive range of motion, followed by percussion massage gun application on his feet, ankles and calves, the client was able to move so much better, almost solely due to the fact he could move his ankles better and have better weight distribution.
A client comes in with TMJ pain. After assessment, I decide to apply the floss around the client’s jaw. Just one loop under the chin and over the top of the head, crossing over the TMJ and back down to the jaw, holding the band taught under the chin with their hands, the client performed some basic jaw movements.
After 90 seconds of movement, the client’s pain subsided dramatically. In this example, floss was utilized in a completely different way than it’s intended.
That’s the amazing benefit of having floss as a tool in your toolbox and in your client’s wellness toolbox: There are so many applications that require only a little imagination. [Read “Build a Pain-Treatment Plan for Lasting Results.”]
There are so many treatment considerations for flossing — movement pattern assistance and movement cue application, to name just two. Couple that with the imagination of a passionate massage therapist and you have the recipe to make you and your clients feel better longer, in and outside of the clinic.
About the Author
Michael Benavidez, LMT, received his bachelor’s in nutritional sciences from Texas A&M University, Class of 1998, and has been a licensed massage therapist since 2009. He currently is the owner of FIT Therapy ATX, a medical and sports massage studio, in Austin, Texas.