Wednesday 12th April, 2023

Does foam rolling help cellulite

Misleading cellulite marketing
Despite the marketing foam rollers will not give you worthwhile long term changes

If you have cellulite marketing like this can give the impression that foam rolling will be a great help. The reality is that at best foam rolling will give you a slight temporary improvement in the appearance of your cellulite. It will not give you any significant long term changes, and certainly will not have you looking like the marketing pics.

The good news

The good news is that clinical trials show that while most of treatments marketed for cellulite are of little long term benefit, there is one easy to apply form of self massage that does give excellent lasting results.

In this article we’ll quickly show you why the likes of foam rolling are a complete and utter waste of time, then show you what does work.

Why foam rolling only gives a temporary improvement in appearance at best

To put it simply, as we show in this next section treatments such as foam rolling only temporarily squeeze fluid from the tissues and maybe flatten them a bit. It does nothing to reduce the amount or size of the fat cells that cause the cellulite tissue to be enlarged and have it’s dimpled appearance.

Cellulite and normal skin
The fat cells are strongly encased in connective tissue pouches, so claims that they are spread, dispersed or smashed up are totally bogus

What is cellulite

If we look at the pic comparing normal tissue and cellulite we will see that the main problem is that the fat cells have enlarged, causing the tissue to expand and bulge out. This increases the size and gives cellulite it's dimpled appearance.

What foam rolling does

In the pic we also see that those cells are surrounded by fluid and encased in strong connective tissue pouches. Foam rolling (and other forms of fluid reduction such as lymphatic drainage) help squeeze out some of the fluid from around the cells and may also mechanically flatten some of the tissues like a steam roller. This will temporarily improve the appearance, but the fluid will gradually seep back in, and the elasticity of the flattened tissues will cause them to “bounce back”. In other words it’s a matter of time before everything returns to the way it was.

The claim about increased circulation

You may read that foam rolling (and some of the other therapies) help increase circulation. They do, and as we discuss next increasing circulation is very important, but the amount and duration of any increase is too small to have a significant effect.

The self massage that actually improves cellulite long term

A brief overview

In the section below we show how scientists have successfully used massage to reduce cellulite, including a complete "how to- self help". However, you might like to check out our quick video demonstration first.

How scientists have successfully used massage to reduce cellulite

Scientists have found that fat accumulates in cellulite tissue because the circulation in these tissues is poor (1). Your body stores excess energy as fat, but when it needs it the poor circulation means that it is not efficiently reabsorbed. The fat gets absorbed from the parts with good circulation, but left in the areas of poor circulation.

The way scientists successfully reduced cellulite in clinical trials is by regularly applying massage that increases circulation. Over time this allows the body to normally reabsorb the excess fat, reducing the size of the cellulite part and improving it’s appearance.

See the actual results

For your reference we have summarised the results of the clinical trials in the appendix and have pasted a table of data below from one of the trials showing the reduction in size of patients hips, thighs and waist.

Data from cellulite trial
Data from actual trial of 4 weeks vibration showing reduced size of thighs, hips and waist (Pilch 2018)

How you can do this yourself

What we will do is first show you the different ways the scientists did this in the trials. They all work, and may be an option for you. We’ll then show you the ideal way you can do this yourself, based upon the science of massage and increasing circulation.

You need repeated massages over time

For your body to re-absorb excess fat the circulation needs to be maintained over a long period of time, but massages only increase circulation for a limited time. This means the massages must be regularly repeated. Many trials used daily massages for weeks or months. This would be very expensive if using a professional therapist, which is why our ideal way uses self massage.

The massages the scientists used

  1. Massages by professional therapists
  2. Vibration plates
  3. Massage chairs
Cellulite massage
Massage therapists do a great job, but the cost of the large number of sessions needed to produce changes is prohibitive

Massages by professional therapists

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

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

Most professional massage therapists would use a combination of one or more of these therapies. However, because of the large number of applications needed the cost would be prohibitive.

Vibration platform
In the trials patients basically sat on platforms like the to directly apply vibration

Vibration platforms

Some studies applied vibration massage using a vibration platform. These are usually used by people standing on them, but the scientists used them to directly apply the vibration. In other words people did things like sit on them to directing apply vibration to their backsides.

Vibration platforms are not designed to be used like this so they are not optimised to directly apply the best vibration to increase circulation. Therefore, there are better options, but if you have one the scientists found that they help.

Standing or resting your feet on these platforms

Vibration platforms are marketed as a help for cellulite, but practically speaking just standing on vibration plates does not increase circulation. What they do is enhance exercises so you burn more calories, ie. your muscles work much harder to maintain balance. This will help reduce your total amount of fat, but will not target cellulite specifically.

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

Massage chairs

Massage chairs were successfully used in some of clinical trials. They are expensive, take up a lot of room, and it is hard to specifically apply vibration to parts of your body such as the front of your thighs. Also, their vibration frequency is usually not optimum to increase circulation. However, if you have one the scientists found that they helped, and you can easily sit relaxed having a massage while watching your favourite TV show.

The optimum massage to help circulation

Now we know that the best way to help cellulite is to maintain increased circulation in the affected areas we can use all the science of massage and it’s effect on circulation to come up with the best possible solution for you.

Conventional massage options

We know that repeated conventional massages work very well. However, you will need a large number of sessions so for most this option will be inconvenient or too expensive.

Therapeutic vibration massagers

Directly applied vibration is an excellent therapy proven to increase circulation. The trials used massage chairs and cushions for their convenience, but purpose built therapeutic vibration massagers will do a much better job.

Vibrating compactor
Genuine vibration massagers work on a similar principle to these to deliver copious amounts of therapeutic vibration

How therapeutic vibration massagers work

The easiest way to show you what therapeutic vibration massagers are and how they work is to use an example a lot of people will have seen. This pic is of a vibrating compactor. They have a flat contact plate that vibrates and sends copious amounts of vibration deep into the ground. Genuine vibration massagers work in a similar way. Later we will show you how to choose a good one.

Percussion vs vibration massage

Do not use a massage gun

Although massage guns vibrate and their marketers claim the benefits of vibration they are not really suitable. Simply speaking, massage guns are designed to work more like a jack hammer. Compared with the vibrating compactor a jack hammer sends far less vibrations into the ground while causing a lot more damage.

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 therapeutic massager delivering 50 hz would be much better. You will need to make sure the equipment you use will deliver this. If specifications are in rpm 50 hz is 3000 rpm.

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 examples of genuine vibration massagers

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.

How to apply the massage

We have a few hints and precaution in our article How to use a hand held massager , but basically it 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

As previously discussed the way to get the best results with the least amount of effort would be to massage each part for a few minutes several times a day.


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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