As of late, I’ve seen a fair number of folks using voodoo floss. Admittedly, I hadn’t given it much thought, seeing as most of the folks using it would easily qualify as meatheads, and the first guy I saw using it told me he used it to make his arms puff up so he could “Look more swole, bro”.
Yeah, so anyway.
Off I went to do some research with my pal Dr. Google about Voodoo Floss. I wasn’t impressed. Especially given the choice of video tacked onto the bottom of the product listing, wherein big name mobility guy Kelly Starrett voodoo flosses someone’s elbow and jolts it around, nearly hyperextending it in the name of ‘increasing mobility’. I clicked off the page and moved on with my day. Not long after, I started thinking about why this dude was using voodoo floss to ‘look swole’, and my line of thinking brought me to the idea that maybe the voodoo floss wasn’t so much voodoo at all.
I borrowed one from a friend, and started experimenting on myself. I ‘flossed’ knees, elbows, ankles, shoulders and basically anything I could easily wrap on my own. I played around with different types of movement and different methods of wrapping. I had some pesky clicking in my knee during squats that cleared up each time I flossed my knee. I started doing it to my friends and family, and finally, with some of my clients.
Like many other things in massage therapy and bodywork, there isn’t much in the way of evidence-based study on things like Voodoo Floss – everything I discuss below is based off my own experiences and the information my clients have passed on to me. While I’m always looking for data and studies that back up this subjective information, when I see excellent anecdotal evidence supporting the use of a tool like this, I’m happy to go with it. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more information on voodoo floss and other similar tools as they become more mainstream.
It would make sense to me that tightening the voodoo floss would cause some type of ischemic compression (oft employed some massage modalities, like trigger point therapy) in the area in question. The concept is fairly simple: deliberately block the blood flow to a specific area. The body realizes this and attempts to send more blood to that area. Release the blockage, and all that blood flows back into the area in question. More blood flow = swole. But more importantly, we want increased blood flow! Increased blood flow means more oxygen, more nutrients getting to your cells, waste being easily transported out of your cells, easier body temperature regulation, and a slower time to reach fatigue, just to name a few. (As a side note, one of the awesome benefits of massage is increased blood flow).
Let’s start off with a couple of quick definitions, just to ensure everyone is on the same page:
Fascia:a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or other organ.
Shear: a strain in the structure of a substance produced by pressure, when its layers are laterally shifted in relation to each other.
Your muscles are essentially wrapped and layered in fascia. These layers of tissue should move and slide on each other to create movement. Lack of movement, injury, or overuse can cause adhesions in these tissues, which will cumulatively lead to difficulty of movement, among other potential things. (Sidenote: Gil Hedley gives an excellent overview of what he calls ‘fuzz’. Spend 5 minutes watching his video “The Fuzz Speech“. It will give you an excellent visual of fascia.)
When we’re talking about fascia and the Voodoo Floss, we’re looking at a type of fascial shear. By wrapping the floss around the joint in question, we’re creating a compression of the tissues in the area. When we combine that compression with movement (either passive or active), we’re creating fascial shear, which breaks up the adhesion in the tissue.
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