Monday 13th June, 2022

The best massage for cellulite: science based guide

Cellulite before and after
We will show you the massage scientists used to reduce cellulite and how you can do this yourself

Cellulite is a very common problem which can be unsightly and have unpleasant symptoms. Treatments such as lasers, needles, fillers and creams can be expensive, invasive and really not that effective. On the other hand massage is claimed to an alternative that is less invasive and even allows inexpensive self care options, but does it work, and if so what is the best way to do it?

Reviewing the scientific studies we found that a lot of claims are dubious and most massages only temporarily improve your appearance, however there is a proper way that in clinical trails has produced long term changes including reducing the size of hips, buttocks and thighs. The good news is that this is something you can easily do yourself, without the need for ongoing appointments and professional charges. We will share with you how this is done.

Cellulite and normal 2
Cellulite: fat cells have absorbed excess fat and are stretching the tissues

What is cellulite

Simply cellulite is abnormal (and unwanted) deposits of fat. As this pic shows the issue is that the fat containing cells become overfilled with fat, causing their volume to increase so they become too large for the tissue that holds them and bulge outwards. Cellulite is often characterised by:

  • an orange peel or dimpled appearance, and possibly a color change
  • the feeling of heavy legs
  • abnormal nerve sensations such as tingling
  • mild pain

What causes cellulite

Scientists believe that the main cause of cellulite is a reduction in circulation within these tissues. It has been found to be 35% lower than in non-affected regions (1)⁠. Because of this reduced circulation fat is not efficiently reabsorbed from these parts when your body needs it. This is very important, because the key to reducing cellulite is to help restore this circulation.

Can massage help reduce cellulite

The results of the eight clinical trials where massage was used to treat cellulite show that massage can definitely help reduce cellulite. In summary they found that massage gave:

  1. a visual improvement- eg. reduced dimpling, improved smoothness
  2. decreased thickness of fat and measurement of affected areas such as thighs and buttocks.
  3. decreased symptoms
  4. increased skin temperature (due to increased circulation)

We’ve outlined what each trial did and what they found in a table in the appendix.

Choosing the best cellulite massage for you

Jump straight to the conclusion

To help work out which is the best massage for you we looked at two things.

  1. The results of the clinical trials
  2. How the scientists believe that massage helps

The trial results

In the trials the researchers used three different types of manual (conventional) massage and a variety of applications of vibration massage.

Manual (conventional) massage results

The following three types of conventional massage were used. They all had roughly similar results.

  • Conventional massage,
  • Manual lymphatic drainage, and
  • Connective tissue manipulations.

Vibration massage results

A direct comparison was impossible because each trial used different numbers of treatment over different lengths of time, and differing ways of measuring the results. However, they do give us some idea.

Number of applications of massage

The most consistent factor was that the successful trials all used a large number of applications of massage over time.

How the scientists believe massage helps

Our background research found a lot of crazy unsubstantiated claims about how massage helps cellulite. Examples include smashing or dispersing the fat cells and re-arranging the connective tissues. However, the scientists tend to agree that the main way massage helps is by increasing circulation. As discussed, cellulite has reduced circulation which means that fats are not re-absorbed as effectively from that part of the body. The repeated massages over time helped increase blood flow, allowing fat to be absorbed from those tissues.


How massage helps cellulite

It appears that massage helps improve the circulation in the affected tissues, allowing the excess fat to be reabsorbed normally. If used over a long period of time the abnormal fat stores will be re-absorbed and re-distributed normally around your body.

Massage only helps redistribute the fat

Massage will help redistribute your fat stores more normally, but will not change the total amount of fat or help reduce your total weight.

The false claims about the way massage helps cellulite

Claims about massage techniques break up fat deposits and re-arranging tissues seem highly dubious with little scientific evidence supporting them. Therefore, although heavily marketed you don’t need any of the aggressive or pummelling (and potentially harmful) therapies, and any suggestion that cellulite tools can help sculpt cellulite are totally ridiculous.

Conclusion: which massage will help cellulite the best

The reason many different types of massage helped is that they all help increase circulation. The repeated applications over time worked because because the circulation needs to stay improved for long enough for the fat to be re-absorbed. Understanding that, the best massage to help you get rid of cellulite will be one that:

  1. effectively increases the circulation, and
  2. is easy to do yourself so it can easily be repeated without being very expensive and time consuming.

In the next section we look at your best massage options to do this. Jump straight to the best massagers

Dr Graeme's comments

Graeme’s comments: we don’t need the cellulite marketing gimmicks

There are many forms of massage and therapeutic massage devices marketed as helping cellulite. A lot of them are “gimmicky” and expensive. However, now we know how massage helps and what the equipment needs to do we are not limited to devices marketed for cellulite. We can use any therapeutic equipment available, and to put it bluntly a lot of the equipment used for general and therapeutic massage is far more effective at increasing circulation (and much better value). Let’s look at your options.

Your cellulite massage options

In the trails the scientists used three different types of manual (conventional) massage and several ways of applying vibration massage. We will look at your

  1. manual massage options, and
  2. vibration massage options.

Manual (conventional) massage options

Cellulite tools
Don't bother with this sort of thing

“Specialised” cellulite tools

If we Google “cellulite tool” we see several expensive gimmicky looking pieces of plastic using terms like sculpting and “blaster”, implying that they break up or help re-arrange cellulite. As discussed these claims are highly dubious, and these tools don’t seem to be a practical way to help increase circulation. These are not recommended.

Therapeutic massage options

The general therapeutic way to self apply manual (conventional) massage is to use balls or rollers. As discussed in our article Do foam rollers work they are no where near as effective as massage performed by professional therapists. However, you can use these yourself, they would be much better than the “cellulite tools”, and you would at least get some increase in circulation. If you have a ball or roller it should help a bit, but you can do a lot better.

Vibration massage options

In the trials the researchers used three different ways to apply vibration: i) massage chairs, ii) vibration plates, and iii) a massager marketed as a “cellulite wand”. We’ll look at each of these, then use the science of vibration massage to put together the most effective cellulite treatment possible.

Vibration platform
Vibration platforms may help exercising, but are not recommended for this sort of cellulite therapy

Vibration platforms

Vibration platforms are marketed and usually used as something you stand on, especially when exercising. However, in the trials they used them to directly apply vibration. We will look at each option.

Directly applying vibration

Vibration plates are not designed to do this so they are not optimised for things like the vibration frequency and how far the plate moves up and down. Also, there are also many parts of your body that would be difficult to directly massage with a vibration plate. They were successfully used like that in some trials, but you could do better.

Standing on the plates

Practically speaking just standing on vibration plates does not increase circulation, and so will not help reduce cellulite. The way these help cellulite is by helping to enhance exercises so you burn more calories. Simply speaking, with the vibration your muscles have to work harder to maintain balance.

Massage chair used in trial
The chair massager used in one of the clinical trials (3)

Chair or cushion massagers

These were successfully used in some of clinical trials. The chair massagers can be expensive and take up a lot of room, but if you have one they are extraordinarily easy and convenient to use. You could easily sit relaxed having a massage while watching your favourite TV show. The down side is that the vibrations don’t tend to be the best for therapeutic applications like increasing circulations, and it can be difficult to directly apply the massage to some part of your body. For example, if you have a massage chair how do you massage the inside or the front of your thighs?

Massage wands

One trial used a tool marketed as a “massage wand”. They look very much like the gimmicky consumer massagers that do not deliver anywhere near effective massage, and we could not even find any vibration specifications on their website. These are not recommended.

The optimum vibration massage/massager for you

Knowing that our goal is to maintain increased circulation in the affected areas we can use all the science of vibration massage to come up with the best possible solution for you.

Localised vibration massager
Units like this deliver far better therapeutic vibration, and can be placed on specific areas

Localised applications

Vibration is much more effective if applied directly. As discussed, this is difficult to do using a massage chair or a vibration plate. Your most effective solution will be a hand held device that can be applied directly to the cellulite tissue.

The vibration frequency

Scientific studies have shown that 30 hz (cycles per second) vibration will increase circulation, but 50 hz will give you a bigger and more longer lasting increase (2). The massage chairs used in the trials were 18-36 hz which gave some benefits, but a massager delivering 50 hz would be much better.

How long to apply the vibration for

In the trials longer applications such as 30-60 minutes were used. However, it would be much more effective to uses several applications a day of a few minutes each. The reason we say this is that studies show that when 50 hz vibration is applied the circulation will rise to the much higher level in about two minutes. When the vibration stops circulation gradually decreases back to normal over about 30 minutes. Therefore, each time you apply the massager for a few minutes you will get 30 minutes of residual increase in circulation.

What to look for in a massager

Unfortunately a lot of massagers marketed to consumers are very poor. Also, as discussed in our article Do massage guns actually work percussion massager (massage guns) are not appropriate and potentially unsafe. To help you choose an effective machine we have a separate article How to choose a massager. However, what we’ll do is give you pictures of some we think would do a good job, then our ideal solution.

Some massagers we believe would do a good job

The Ultimate Quad Head Massager being used
Our Ultimate Quad Head Massager is easy to use and gives strong quality therapeutic vibrations over a reasonable sized area.

Our massagers

We make two hand held massagers that are easy to use and give excellent therapeutic vibrations. These are our General Purpose Massager and our Ultimate Quad Head Massager. Of these the quad head massager would be the ideal choice for cellulite massage.

  1. It is very easy to use
  2. It gives excellent quality therapeutic vibration
  3. With four strong vibration heads it can give quality massage to a larger area at a time, making it much quicker to treat all the areas that need it.

Video: Dr Graeme demonstrating our massagers

How to apply the vibration massage

Simply, to apply vibration you just need to place the head of your vibration massager on the cellulite you wish to treat. The vibrations will penetrate and increase the circulation in the tissues beneath. For full details please see our vibration massage usage guide_


DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.

Appendix: summary of clinical trials using massage or vibration massage to treat cellulite

NOTE: You may need to scroll the table below left/right for more information


What they did




30 or 60 minutes vibration daily for three weeks

Reduced grading+ of cellulite


Used 17.5-46 Hz vibrations for 30 or 60 minutes a day for three weeks

Reduced grading+ of cellulite. Increased skin temperature

Sub optimal vibrations


15x 30 or 60 minutes locally applied 18-39 Hz

Reduced grading+ of cellulite, increased skin temperature

Sub optimal vibrations


24 weeks of using hand held vibration wand.

Visual improvement

Used a device marketed as a cellulite wand, but no where near a serious therapeutic device.


15 applications of 18-39 Hz vibration over three weeks.

Decreased symptoms. Increased skin hydration.

Sub optimal vibrations


4 weeks of 17.5-46.5 Hz vibrations

Decreased measurements for thighs, hips and waist

Vibrations only 0.5mm so extremely poor penetration


10 sessions of whole body vibration

Increased skin temperature


Tested three types of conventional massage++

All gave a reduction in sub-cutaneous fat

Professionals would likely combine all three for excellent results

+ Please see gradings below (reduced grading is better):
++ Types were i) Conventional massage, ii) manual lymphatic drainage, and iii) Connective tissue manipulations.

Grading cellulite

For research or description cellulite is graded as follows. Where the grades were reduced in the trials that means that the cellulite improved.

  • Grade 1 – you can’t see cellulite with the naked eye, but the changes on your skin are still going on microscopically.
  • Grade 2 – the skin shows paleness, lower temperature, and decreased elasticity after compression or muscular contraction. There is no visible “orange peel” roughness to the skin.
  • Grade 3 – this is when the lumps and bumps are starting to make themselves visible. Thin granulations in the deep levels of the skin can be detected by palpitation. All Grade 2 signs are present.
  • Grade 4 – more visible, palpable, and painful lumps are present, adhering to deep structures in the skin. The skin has a noticeable dimpled, wavy appearance. Additional microscopic changes are detected. Grade 4 signs are present, and cellulite is constantly visible to the patient.


  1. Piotrowska A, Czerwińska-Ledwig O, Stefańska M, Pałka T, Maciejczyk M, Bujas P, et al. Changes in Skin Microcirculation Resulting from Vibration Therapy in Women with Cellulite. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(6).
  2. Maloney-Hinds C, Petrofsky JS, Zimmerman G. The effect of 30 Hz vs. 50 Hz passive vibration and duration of vibration on skin blood flow in the arm. Med Sci Monit. 2008;14(3):CR112-6.
  3. Piotrowska A, Czerwińska-Ledwig O. Effect of local vibrotherapy in sitting or lying position in two time protocols on the cellulite grade and change of body circumferences in women with cellulite. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2022;21(5):2130–9.
  4. Pilch W, Czerwińska-Ledwig O, Chitryniewicz-Rostek J, Nastałek M, Krȩzałek P, Jȩdrychowska D, et al. The Impact of Vibration Therapy Interventions on Skin Condition and Skin Temperature Changes in Young Women with Lipodystrophy: A Pilot Study. Evidence-based Complement Altern Med. 2019;2019.
  5. Sadowski T, Bielfeldt S, Wilhelm KP, Sukopp S, Gordon C. Objective and subjective reduction of cellulite volume using a localized vibrational massage device in a 24-week randomized intra-individual single-blind regression study. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2020;42(3):277–88.
  6. Piotrowska A, Czerwińska-Ledwig O. Effect of Three-Week Vibrotherapy on Selected Skin Parameters of Thighs and Buttocks in Women with Cellulite. Cosmetics. 2022;9(1).
  7. Pilch W, Nastałek M, Piotrowska A, Czerwińska-Ledwig O, Zuziak R, Maciorowska A, et al. The effects of a 4-week vibrotherapy programme on the reduction of adipose tissue in young women with cellulite – a pilot study. Rehabil Med. 2018;22(4):18–24.
  8. Cristovam DN, Botelho S, Andrade MF, Marques J, Sousa L. Whole-body vibration in the reduction of the cellulite. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2019;21(5):278–85.
  9. Bayrakci Tunay V, Akbayrak T, Bakar Y, Kayihan H, Ergun N. Effects of mechanical massage, manual lymphatic drainage and connective tissue manipulation techniques on fat mass in women with cellulite. J Eur Acad Dermatology Venereol. 2010;24(2):138–42.

We are continually adding more information on research and uses. Subscribe below to have us email them to you "hot off the press".

Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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