Friday 2nd September, 2022

Can massage help cellulite

Cellulite before and after 2
Can you really do this with massage: yes, but not if you follow the advice of most marketers

With professional cellulite therapies being expensive and really not that effective the thought of being able to have a massage or use a self massage device is very attractive. However, do they work? The research shows that if done properly massage can certainly help cellulite.

However, a lot of tools and devices being marketed are ineffective or marginal at best, and a lot of claims are false and misleading. If you use massage appropriately you should reduce cellulite, but of you followed a lot of the marketing advice you could very easily spend a lot of money for very little benefit, and possibly even do yourself harm.

In this article we will
Cellulite and normal 2
Cellulite: fat cells have absorbed excess fat and are stretching the tissues

What is cellulite

Cellulite is abnormal deposits of fat. As this diagram shows, with the fat cells becoming larger they can become too big for the tissues that hold them, giving the bulging or dimpling appearance.

What causes cellulite

Scientists believe that the main cause of cellulite is reduced circulation within these tissues. They found it to be to be 35% lower than in non-affected regions (1)⁠. Your body uses these fat stores as energy, but with the reduced circulation fat is not efficiently reabsorbed.

How does massage help cellulite

The only “scientific” way massage helps reduce cellulite is by increasing circulation. This allows your body to absorb fat normally from these areas. It takes some time for the excess fat stores to be absorbed so the increase in circulation must be maintained over an extended period. This means that you will need regular massages over time.

Short term improvements in appearance

Once off massages can do things like help remove fluids that can temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite. However, they will be of no long term benefit.

The bogus claims

Reading through a selection of websites on massage for cellulite we saw a collection of totally bogus claims. We list them here so you can recognise them as such.

  • massage spreads cellulite out
  • massage flattens out cellulite
  • massage (and massage guns) break up fat cells so they can be reabsorbed
  • massage guns can help obese people by reducing the excess fat under their skin
  • massage guns redistribute fat cells

Reducing total weight loss

It is important to note that even when used correctly massage will only allow your body to re-absorb fat more normally (rather than only from the areas with good circulations). It will not change the total amount of fat.

What massage is best for cellulite

In the section below we give a complete run down on your various massage options, including "how to's" and a summary of the scientific research. However, you might like to check out our quick video demonstration of your best option.

In the table below we have summarised the results of clinical trials using various types of massage to help cellulite. They used different numbers of treatments and different ways of measuring the results so a direct comparison is not possible. However, understanding that massage helps by increasing the circulation these trials showed:

  • they all helped because most forms of massage help increase circulation to some extent
  • the more successful trials used a larger number of applications over time.

Therefore, the best massage to help cellulite will be one that increases circulation well, and that can be applied a large number of times. Let’s look at your options.

Manual (conventional) massages

Professional therapy

The clinical trials tested each of the following types of manual (conventional) massages. They all had roughly similar results. If you saw a professional therapist he or she would likely use a combination of all three. Having a professional do the large number of applications needed would be very expensive, but you may consider some professional therapy supplemented with home therapy.

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

Foam rollers

In our article Do foam rollers work we discuss that using foam rollers is no where near as effective as massage by a professional therapist, but they could help a bit.

Cellulite tools
Don't bother with this sort of thing

“Cellulite tools”

There are a variety of self massage tools marketed as help for cellulite. As you can see with names like “sculpting” and “blaster” they are implying that they do things we’ve mentioned are completely bogus. Further, they would be extremely poor at giving a self massage to increase circulation.

Vibration massage options

The beauty of the vibration options is that they are usually very easy to self apply, making it very practical to have the large number of applications you will need. 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”. Massage guns are also heavily marketed as being able to help with cellulite.

However, now we know how massage helps cellulite we can consider any therapeutic massager, not just the ones marketed for cellulite. For example, we have the option of equipment a chiropractor or physiotherapist might use to treat a musculoskeletal problem. These will be much better at increasing circulation, and much better value

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

Vibration platforms

Vibration platforms are usually something you stand on, especially when exercising. However, in the trials they used them to directly apply vibration (eg. sitting on them). They helped a bit in the trials, but are not really designed to to directly apply vibrations so things like the vibration frequency and how far the plate moves up and down are not optimised. Also, there are many parts of your body that would be difficult to directly massage with a vibration plate.

How vibration plates help cellulite

These plates are marketed to help cellulite. Just standing on them will do very little, but if you exercise on them your body tends to work harder and burn more calories. This helps reduce your total amount of body fat rather than target cellulite.

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 and are very easy 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?

Using a massage gun on thigh
Massage guns pummel rather than vibrate tissues, and are associated with a host of bogus claims

Massage guns

Although heavily marketed massage guns are not recommend for cellulite for these these for two main reasons.

  1. It is the vibration the helps increase circulation. As discussed in the our article Percussion vs Vibration massage guns are designed to pummel the muscles rather than transmit therapeutic vibration.
  2. Most of the bogus claims such as breaking down fat cells so they could be reabsorbed come from massage gun marketing material.

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.

Choosing the best option from any therapeutic massager.

Scientists have studied the effects of vibration on circulation, so they know what vibration works the best and how long to apply it for. We’ll use that information to help work out how you can get the massage that most effectively increase yours.


Localised applications

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

The vibration frequency

A lot of the trials used vibration from 18-36 hz (cycles per second), but 50 hz will give you a bigger and more longer lasting increase in circulation (2). You need a massager capable of delivering 50 hz.

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, and as discussed 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.


In summary, you want a strongly built machine capable of delivering 50 hz of professional standard vibration rather than percussion. The following pictures are of some we think would do a good job. After that we give what we believe is the ideal solution.

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.

The ideal solution

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 detalails please see our article How to use a hand held massager

Dr Graeme's comments

Extra development

In an earlier article I commented that those conducting the trials had used the less effective equipment market for cellulite, and that far better results would be had choosing equipment base on on the science of therapeutic vibrations. One of the researchers actually contacted me, and they are now evaluating our machines for future research.


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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