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What is Skin Rolling?

By KD Morgan
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Skin rolling is a massage technique for releasing and clearing obstructions in our body. When we overexert our physiologies through exercise, work or play our bodies produce excess acids that accumulate in our muscles causing us to feel sore.

Our skin encases and protects our internal body from exposure to our environment. It is an organ in itself and a main channel of elimination to aid our internal organs in removing waste. As a result, it is vulnerable to internal and external toxins, which cause pain and stiffness in our muscles and joints.

When we eat foods that are not conducive to our digestion, one of the ways our bodies release the impurities is through the skin. This “throwing off” of toxins causes knots and blockages so the skin cannot function at optimal capacity.

Mental and emotional stress can also produce acids, which inflame and intensify the fascia, embedding the skin, muscles and nerves with knots. For this reason, many massage techniques use skin rolling as part of their therapy. Myofascial release commonly uses this technique by manually manipulating the skin to eliminate pain, increase flexibility and balance the body.

The fascia is the connective tissue uniting the surface skin to the underlying tissue. It encapsulates the muscles. The fascia often becomes inflamed because of acid buildup, causing sore muscles and stiffness. By using skin rolling techniques, much of our body’s pain can be relieved by manually manipulating the obstructions to smooth and soothe them.

Skin rolling is a process of releasing these knots so that the physical skin can flow efficiently over the body. The technique uses the thumb and fingers to pull the skin away from the body. Then, keeping a continuous forward motion with the thumb, the skin is gently rolled in a uniform direction to separate it from any muscles that may be stuck.

If done properly, skin rolling should feel good as it opens and liberates the skin from any restrictions. It is only painful as the result of muscles being stuck to the deep tissue or the release of compounded tissue in the form of knots. Muscles should not interfere with the skin’s fluidity and visa versa.

If there are areas of scar tissue, breaking up the adhesions can be accomplished by skin rolling in all directions away from the scar. These areas will take several treatments and can be uncomfortable. Ice may be applied after skin rolling treatments to help in healing the injured and inflamed areas.

When performing skin rolling massage, appropriate massage oil will make the process easier and more comfortable. It is important to note that the skin will metabolize any compound that comes in contact with it, leaving the internal organs the task of breaking down any toxins.

For this reason it is best to use natural, organic oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, or one to your liking. Often these oils are heated to a comfortable temperature to open and soothe the skin as you work.

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Discussion Comments

By Michigander — On Nov 10, 2013

I have been seeing a physical therapist for six weeks now, recovering for cervical spine discectomy and fusion surgery. I've been told that I have stress and tension in my deep muscles from long before I had surgery, along with 'muscle memory' in the muscles in my back in the way they were protecting my body from injury and pain prior to the surgery before the issue was discovered (herniated disc) (in pain six weeks before surgery was decided).

The first six weeks of therapy have been spent on range of motion for my neck and building endurance for being able to sit and stand without running out of energy during the day. Because of the amount of scar tissue and what we've termed as "gunk" (ew!) in the muscles from misuse and non-use before and after surgery, the therapist wasn't able to do skin rolling until this sixth week. We've had to do a lot of deep tissue massage and work on the muscles through exercises to break up the muscle seizure and cramping to get it away from the skin more and more before skin rolling was even possible.

I just wanted to share my experience, in case it's helpful in knowing some of the background of what can be done first and timing, before skin rolling, depending on your situation. I had a lot of issues internally making it impossible until just this week. It was slightly uncomfortable, but not nearly as pressure-some and uncomfortable as the deep tissue massage can be. I have some very serious muscle tone and fibers anxious and angrily turned in the wrong direction. I plan to conquer them, however (hopefully sooner than later -- this has been a very long road!). Staying positive, though! Wishing everyone well. K

By anon349611 — On Sep 27, 2013

I recently had this done and it does not feel so cool nor can I imagine anybody gleefully having this done. I have a higher than normal tolerance for pain and this made me squirt a tear or two. I call crap on the guy who said he was skin rolled and it felt relaxing and comfortable- it hurts!

By anon213033 — On Sep 09, 2011

I had this done yesterday on my back and it is painful! Today if I touch my back where it was rolled, it hurts. No bruising, but pain still... Am I that bad off or was it done wrong?

By anon182890 — On Jun 03, 2011

I have suffered from extreme muscle tension in my upper shoulders and back for quite sometime. I always assumed it was a simple muscle spasm problem, but my sister in law, who is a physical therapist, visited me and said it sounded like my skin was fused to my muscles (that means the skin won't slide freely over the muscles and cause tension/muscles to 'lock up'). She said skin rolling would help release the two layers from one another.

Fortunately and unfortunately, she was right. The skin rolling did really help to break up the two layers and helped temporarily relieve the tension, but during the skin rolling process it was excruciatingly painful. She taught my husband how to roll my skin correctly (just pinch a bit of skin and then slowly 'slide' it between your fingers all the way along a linear direction). It isn't a difficult technique, and my husband used it on me for several nights. I could only stand to do it for about five minutes at a time before I would be in tears from the pain.

My sister in law said that the reason it hurt is because my muscles were indeed fused to my skin. For anyone without my problem, skin rolling should not be painful. We now do this skin rolling technique whenever I feel too much tension and it helps tremendously. I used to ache and be in pain all day. Now after a skin rolling session, I am relatively pain free during the day and sometimes for many days at a time. The rolling hurts less than it did, but every now and then I'll be super tense and it will be very painful. However, the benefits definitely outweigh the temporary pain.

I plan to seek a doctor's advice as to whether I might have an underlying connective tissue disorder that could be causing the chronic inflammation and tension.

By anon124870 — On Nov 07, 2010

I am a massage therapist and I use skin rolling techniques when doing any sort of deep tissue massage, myofascial release, or sports massage. It can be extremely beneficial to loosen up the superficial fascia, separating the skin and fascia from the underlying muscles and other tissues.

This isn't a very difficult technique at all. It is only a matter of making sure you are rolling the smallest portion of skin you can comfortably get hold of.

Also, on the matter of lubricant, I try never to use any oil or lotion when performing skin rolling. In order to roll the skin properly, you can't have any slide to the skin, or it will only slide out of your fingers. You need to have a firm grip on the skin. If the skin and underlying tissues are warmed up correctly, skin rolling shouldn't be painful. It may be a little uncomfortable (a good kind of hurt) at first, but will feel much better after. You can tell a huge difference pretty quickly with this technique. I would highly recommend it.

And to respond to TunaLine, there is no reason any therapist would mind working on someone with eczema. I see clients with eczema breakouts all the time. I even get it occasionally on my upper arms. Trust me, once you're in this field for a while, it's like a doctor, we've seen much worse.

Skin rolling itself probably wouldn't have any effect on the eczema itself. I would check with your doctor about some sort of cream. My doctor recommended Eucerin lotions because they are so oily, it help alleviate the dryness. Also, I've used Jojoba Oil. It's about as close to the natural sebum your body produces as you can buy, it's just expensive. Either that or Palmer's Cocoa Butter formula Body Oil is also excellent without being overly oily. You can get it at Walmart for about $5. I hope this helps! ~Savanna LMT~

By TunaLine — On Nov 06, 2010

I would really like to try skin rolling, but unfortunately I get really bad eczema skin breakouts.

I can't imagine that many people would want to do a skin rolling process on me when I'm covered with all those itchy skin bumps!

I wonder though, since there are so many benefits of skin pass rolling, do you think that it could do any good for my eczema? I have tried all kinds of things on my skin, organic skin lotions, natural skin creams, etc, but nothing seems to work.

Do you think that skin pass rolling could do me any good, if I went in between flare ups?

By Charlie89 — On Nov 06, 2010

This sounds so cool! I would love to try something like this -- it sounds like a massage, but better, since everything is put back in it's place.

I do agree with @copperpipe, though, it sounds like this could be really ineffective if done improperly. Is there some kind of way that you can make sure that your skin rolling expert can do it properly? For example, is there some sort of skin rolling test that you have to take before you can be a certified skin roller?

I am so interested in trying this out after reading this article -- very interesting, wisegeek!

By CopperPipe — On Nov 06, 2010

I had never heard of this -- it sounds like one of those things that would work really well if you had somebody do it who knew what they were doing, but it would be utterly useless if done improperly.

I wonder what kind of skin lotions or cosmetics they use to facilitate the rolling process. For example, when you get a massage, the masseur uses oil or lotion. Do you know if they do the same thing for skin rolling?

By breakofday — On Dec 24, 2009

When I hurt my back at work part of the therapy was skin rolling. It sounds really weird, but after the heat therapy, the skin rolling was the best part. I felt relaxed, comfortable and everything felt "in it's place", sounds funky but that's how it felt!

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