In this summary we investigate the science behind the use of vibration massage. This helps us envisage uses and to develop protocols. ... Read Article
The practical guide to massage for cellulite
In this guide we will show you step by step how to apply the massage that has actually been shown to give long term changes to cellulite, including an actual reduction in the size of affected parts.
What to expect
There is a lot of misinformation and dubious claims made about massage and cellulite, so we’ll give you a summary of what science says you can expect.
Long term improvement
Scientists in clinical trials have successfully reduced the size and improved the appearance of cellulite by using repeated applications of massage over time to improve the circulation in the cellulite tissues. In this guide we will show how this was achieved, and some practical ways you can do this yourself.
There are many forms of massage that temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite by doing things such as temporarily changing the amount of fluid in the tissues. However these have no long term effects on the problem fat cells or fat stores so all improvements will be lost withing a short time. We will not be showing these.
The bogus claims
Marketing material and advice on massage for cellulite is full of bogus and misleading claims, usually designed to sell you some dubious overpriced treatment or product.
Blatantly bogus claims
Reading through a selection of websites on massage for cellulite we saw many claims that were totally bogus. 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
Stretching the truth
Some claims we read have an element of truth, but are presented in such a way to mislead or overstate benefits. Some examples include.
- Very small and temporary improvements being portrayed as much more significant
- massage gun marketers claiming their machines benefit by increasing circulation (they do, but are very poor increasing circulation and there are much better ways)
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.
The scientific way to reduce cellulite with massage
How cellulite was successful reduced in clinical trials
Scientists have identified that the main cause of cellulite is reduced circulation (1). What happens is when your body needs fat it absorbs it from the parts of your body with normal circulation in preference to the cellulite tissues with poor circulation. The way scientists have reduced cellulite in several trials is by regularly applying massage over time to improve or normalise circulation in the cellulite tissues. This has allowed the fat to be absorbed normally.
The main things you need to do
From these trials we learn that to reduce cellulite massage:
- should be done to increase circulation, and
- needs to be repeated over time to allow your body to re-absorb the fat deposits. Researchers often applied the massage daily over several weeks.
How to applying this to your cellulite
To reduce cellulite you need to regularly apply massage that increases circulation. We’ll show you the main options. We’ll start with an overview including some useful ones you may already have access to, and the ones we don’t recommend. We conclude the section by using the science of massage and increasing circulation to give you what should be your best solution.
Professional massage options
Three types of conventional professional massage were used in the clinical trials. Each gave roughly the same results (2). Likely a professional therapist would use a combination of all three, and therefore give you very effective massage. Keep in mind that the trials typically used daily applications over several weeks, and likely therapy would need to be continued to maintain the circulation. This would become very expensive and time consuming.
Self massage options
A genuine vibration massager (the best option)
This will be by far the best way to regularly apply massage to increase circulation. We will discuss these in the following section on the ideal solution.
Vibration plates are heavily marketed to help with cellulite and were successfully used in some of the trials. However, the way the researchers used them was not the way markers advertised them. The reality is that if you just stand on them they do very little. They benefit by making you work harder during exercise and burn more calories.
The way the researchers used these plates was to use them to directly apply the vibration. In other words the patients basically sat on them or rested their thighs against them. It worked, but vibration plates are not really designed 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. If you have one and use it the way that was done in the trials you should get some benefits. However, as you will see later equipment purpose built to deliver vibrations this way will give far better results.
Chair or cushion massagers
Some of the clinical trials used massage chairs. The advantage of these is that they 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? Like the case with the vibration plates if you have a massage chair and use it the way they did in the trials you should get some benefits, but the purpose built equipment will give much better therapeutic vibrations.
We see a lot of claims about foam rollers such as that they help flatten cellulite. If they do the effect with be very temporary at best. Also, as discussed in our article Do foam rollers work using them is generally no where near as effective as massage by a professional therapist. They are also difficult, often painful, and 27 years in practice as a chiropractor saw a lot of people hurt themselves using them.
Although massage guns are heavily marketed to help cellulite we don’t recommend them for two main reasons. The first is that massage guns are actually very poor at delivering the vibrations that increase circulation. As discussed in the our article Percussion vs Vibration are designed to pummel the muscles like a jack hammer. This reduces the transfer or therapeutic vibrations while at the same time making them a lot more dangerous.
Also, massage gun marketers are responsible for a lot of bogus claims such as their products break down fat cells. This is not only fraudulent, encourages people to use these things in a way that they can seriously hurt themselves.
There are a variety of self massage tools marketed as help for cellulite. Theses are certainly not very effective at increasing cirulation, and as you can see in the picture some have names or descriptions including “sculpting” and “blaster” which imply that they do things we’ve mentioned are completely bogus.
One trial used a tool marketed as a “massage wand”. We could nor find any vibration specifications on their website, but they look very much like the gimmicky consumer massagers that do not deliver anywhere near effective massage. Don’t waste your money.
Your best massage for cellulite
In this section we will use the science of increasing circulation with massage to give you the best possible cellulite massage solution.
You will need self massage
Most of the clinical trials used daily massage for several weeks, and likely more massages would be needed for further improvements and maintenance. Therefore for most people the massage will need to be self massage.
Vibration massage is the only realistic option
Self massage using conventional massage (including foam rollers) is hard to do and not that effective. On the other hand with the right equipment vibration massage is extremely easy to self apply and very effective.
What equipment will you need
From the science of vibration massage we know that the most effective way to apply vibration is by using a tool that applies vibrations directly to the tissues. We also know that the best frequency to increase circulation is around 50 hz (cycles per second) (3). The best way to apply this is with a purpose built profession standard vibration massager capable of delivering 50 hz vibrations.
Choosing 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. However, to help you out we’ll illustrate a few machines we believe would do a good job, then show you the machines we developed for the purpose.
Some examples of professional vibration massagers
The massagers we built for the purpose
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
The General Purpose Massager
The General Purpose Massager gives excellent therapeutic massage and is widely used by professionals. It is extremely easy to use, and because of it’s ergonomic handle you can easily reach anywhere on your body for self massage.
Get a General Purpose Massager
The Ultimate Quad Head Massager
The General Purpose Massager give excellent therapeutic massage, but is limited to what is under the single head. The quad head massager is similarly easy to use with an ergonomically designed handle, but with it’s four heads the quad head massager is capable of massaging a much larger area. That means you could massage all your cellulite tissue in far less time. This would be the ideal choice for cellulite massage.
Get an Ultimate Quad Head Massager
How to apply the massage
We have a few hints and precaution in our article How to use a hand held massager, but basically is is extremely simple. You just set the machine at about 50 hz and place the head of the massager on the part you wish to massage. The machine does all the work. There is no need to press in or rub as you would for conventional massage.
When and how long to apply the massage 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.
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
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.
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
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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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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