Massage for Cellulite: What Is It, Does It Work?
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT — Written by Donna Christiano on February 22, 2019
Massage may be able to improve the appearance of cellulite by:
- draining excess body fluid
- redistributing fat cells
- improving circulation
- plumping up skin
However, massage won’t cure cellulite. While massage may improve appearance, results typically don’t last for long and in many cases repeat treatments are necessary.null
Massage devices for cellulite
There are a variety of massage devices on the market that claim to reduce cellulite, but not all of them are effective.
Many people use foam rollers — hard, tube-shaped pieces of foam — with the hope that they can break up fat. But according to the American Council on Exercise, foam rollers won’t do anything to improve the appearance of cellulite.
There’s also no substantial proof that things like handheld vibrating massagers or dry brushing — brushing your dry skin with a soft-bristled brush — can do much for cellulite either, especially long term.
One product that does show some promise is endermologie. This FDA-approved device lifts, stretches, and rolls skin to help move fat and reduce cellulite. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it’s shown mixed results. Even when improvement is noticed, it tends to fade after a month unless treatment is repeated.
What we know from research
Some studies show that certain massage techniques can be beneficial in reducing cellulite, but many of the studies caution that the results are temporary.
- A 2015 study found that dry cupping can encourage the drainage of fluid, toxins, and other chemical byproducts from the body, which may improve the way cellulite looks. In the study, cups were placed over areas with cellulite while a handheld pump created suction. After five weeks of treatment, the women in the study saw their cellulite grade decrease from a mean of 2.4 pre-cupping to 1.68 after cupping.
- Another studyTrusted Source from 2010 looked at what effects mechanical massage, a massage using a machine, such as endermologie; lymphatic drainage massage, a type of massage that uses light pressure to help the lymphatic system drain fluids, debris, and toxins; and connective tissue manipulation (CTM) had on cellulite. CTM is a type of massage to improve circulation that applies pressure to the ligaments, tendons, and tissues that connect muscle to skin. All three techniques were effective in decreasing fat and the circumference of the thigh where the massage was performed.
Things to consider
Cellulite is common, especially in women. Having cellulite doesn’t necessarily mean you’re overweight, unfit, or in any way unhealthy.
While massage will probably have little, if any, lasting effect on your cellulite, it can have other health benefits. It can help you feel more relaxed, reduce tightness and soreness in your muscles, and decrease body pain. Massage may not help you look better, but it can help you feel better.
If you’re concerned about the appearance of your cellulite, see a dermatologist who can talk to you about other, more proven anti-cellulite techniques.
According to the AAD, two procedures ares promising:
- laser therapy
- subcision, in which a needle is inserted under the skin to break up tough bands of connective tissue, thereby giving the skin a smoother appearance
What is cellulite?
Cellulite is a term used to describe an area of the body where skin has a dimpled appearance. According to research, 80 to 90 percentTrusted Source of adult women have some cellulite and it’s generally seen on the hips, buttocks, and thighs. It can also occur on the lower belly and upper arms.
Cellulite, also called gynoid lipodystrophy, may be more pronounced in people who are overweight or obese, but it occurs in very lean people, too.null
Causes of cellulite
Your skin, fat, muscles, and other tissues are in layers. Cellulite is thought to arise when the fibrous bands of connective tissue that anchor the skin to muscles break down, allowing fat cells to push up into the skin layer. This creates the uneven, bumpy texture that gives cellulite its cottage cheese-like appearance.
Everyone has fat cells. While we’re all susceptible to cellulite, some people are more prone to it than others. Some factors that increase a person’s likelihood for cellulite include:
- Gender. Men have connective tissue that lie in a crisscross pattern, and those intersecting bands are good at holding fat cells down. Women, on the other hand, have vertical bands of connective tissue that are more likely to allow fat cells to bulge toward the surface of the skin.
- Age. As we get older, skin becomes less elastic and connective tissue bands naturally weaken.
- Hormones. Hormones — particularly the hormone estrogen — appear to play a role in the formation of fat cells and cellulite. This may be another reason why women have more cellulite than men. It may also help explain why cellulite seems to first begin after puberty and sometimes worsens during pregnancy.
- Genetics. Genes can dictate the distribution of fat cells, skin elasticity, and other factors that influence cellulite.
- Diet. According to research, a high-fat, high-salt, high-preservative diet may bring about metabolic disorders that can accelerate cellulite.
- Lifestyle. Certain lifestyle factors, such as not getting enough exercise and drinking too much alcohol, can affect circulation, inflammation, and the way fat cells are formed and distributed throughout the body.
The bottom line
Cellulite is completely normal. For most people, it’s not a medical concern but may be concerning in appearance. If you’d like to try massage to treat cellulite, understand its limitations.
Massage isn’t a cure for cellulite but it might temporarily improve skin’s appearance and make cellulite less noticeable. Massage does have many health benefits so it may be worth adding to your wellness regimen.
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