Wednesday 12th April, 2023

Does foam rolling help cellulite: with video instructions

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

Marketing like this implies that you can get some pretty impressive results using a foam roller, but the reality is at best foam rolling only gives a small temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite. There won’t be any long term changes. You’ll spend your money, potentially injure yourself, and have practically nothing to show for it. That’s typical of a lot of products marketed for cellulite, but the good news clinical trials show that there is a massage you can easily apply yourself, that does give you excellent lasting results.

What I’ll do in this video is run over why the likes of foam rollers are a complete and utter waste of time, then show you what does work.

Video: do foam rollers help cellulite

Video transcript

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

Why foam rolling won't help cellulite long term

Lets start with why foam rolling won’t work. If we look at the pic comparing normal tissue and cellulite we see that the main problem is that the fat cells are much bigger, causing the tissue to expand and bulge out. This is why your hips and thighs get larger and have a dimpled appearance.

So, what do foam rollers do? To put it simply, 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 of fat in the cells. It 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 just a matter of time before everything returns to exactly the way it was before.

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

What does help cellulite?

So what does work? Scientists have found that the reason the fat cells are so big is that the circulation in these tissues is poor . What happens is your body stores excess energy as fat, but when it needs that extra energy because of the poor circulation the fat isn’t efficiently reabsorbed. What happens is your body absorbs fat from the parts with good circulation, but leaves the fat in the areas of poor circulation.

Understanding that, the way scientists successfully reduced cellulite in clinical trials was to increase that circulation so the fat gets reabsorbed normally. Of course it takes time for the fat to be reabsorbed so the circulation needs to be kept up for an extended period of time. This is why as I said before the small amount of increase you get squeezing out the fluids with a roller, or for that matter any once off cellulite massage is not going to do it. The way the scientists kept the circulation up was by using repeated massages that were especially designed to increase circulation.

If you’re thinking now that regular specialised massages would be very expensive and very inconvenient don’t worry. The best massage to increase circulation is one you can easily do on yourself for practically no on-going cost, and I’ll certainly be showing you how to do that.

Just to show you what is possible I’ve summarised the trials in an article linked in the description, but this table shows exactly what was achieved in one trial over just four weeks. What it shows is the actual measurements of hips, waists and thighs before and after. We can see that the measurements reduced by from one and a quarter to nearly two and a half cm. That was only four weeks. More fat would be probably be reabsorbed if they kept going.

Actual clinical trial data showing the reduction in size of the waist, hips and thighs after four weeks

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

The effective self massage is vibration massage

Now the self massage the scientists used was vibration massage. Scientists have found that vibration at the right frequency is great for increasing circulation. What I’ll do is first show you the ways the scientists applied the vibration, because they used things that you might already have what you need at home, then I’ll show you the best way. The two ways the scientists applied the vibration were by using vibration platforms and massage chairs.

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

Vibration platforms

Looking at vibration platforms first, they’re things like shown in this pic. They’re designed to have people stand on them, but what the scientists did was use them to directly apply the vibration. In other words people did things like sit on them to vibrate their backsides. They’re not designed to be used like this so there are better options, but if you have one the scientists found they helps.

Not as advertised

That said, there’s a lot of marketing saying that if you use vibration platforms as they were intended they will help cellulite. The reality is that practically speaking just standing on vibration plates doesn’t increase circulation, and in no way targets cellulite. What they do is enhance exercises so you burn more calories. Your your muscles need to work much harder to maintain balance. This helps reduce your total amount of fat, which of course may include some cellulite. That’s why in the adds you’ll always see things like “helps reduce cellulite, when combined exercise and a healthy lifestyle”.

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

Massage chairs

The other self massage the scientists used were massage chairs. These were the vibration type, not the ones that feel like they are kneading you. Massage chairs 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 the best for increasing 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.

Your best vibration massage solution: a genuine vibration massager

The scientists probably used platforms and chairs because they were readily available, but lets looks at how we can do it using equipment especially designed for the purpose: that’s a genuine therapeutic vibration massager.

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 these are are and how they work is to use an example a lot of people will have seen. This pic is of a vibrating compactor. If you haven’t seen one before they have a flat contact plate that vibrates and sends huge amounts of vibration deep into the ground. Genuine therapeutic vibration massagers work in a similar way, only of course they give vibrations designed to have a therapeutic affect on your body rather than compact foundations.

Percussion vs vibration massage

Do not use a massage gun

A word of warning though about massage guns or percussion massagers. They are marketed as using vibration but are not really suitable. To show you why, simply speaking, massage guns are designed drive their heads into your muscle, working more like more like a jack hammer. If you compare a jackhammer and a vibrating compactor they both vibrate, but the compactor sends those vibrations deep into the ground whereas the jack hammer’s vibrations are used to smash the surface. Its the same with a genuine vibration massage vs a percussion massager. The vibration massager will send in huge amount of those vibrations that increase circulation, while the percussion massager will pummel the surface. To stay safe and get the good results your really need the proper equipments so I’ll pop a link to how to choose one in the description.

How to apply the vibration massage

So once you’ve got the proper equipment lets show you what to do with it. Keep in mind that this is general information only, to be discussed with a professional familiar with your specific needs.
Now using a vibration massager is very simple. Basically all you do is sit the machine on the cellulite tissue and let the machine do the work. There’s no need to use any special massage skills. Our vibration massage usage guide will give you the hints and precautions” That way I can focus here on the important things for cellulite massage. That’s the vibration frequency you’ll use, plus when and how long to apply it for.

The vibration frequency

Looking at the vibration frequency first, scientists have found that the best frequency to increase circulation is about 50 hz or cycles per second. A lot of machines give their specs as rpm or revs per minute. 50 Hz is 3000 rpm. I mentioned before that the massage chairs didn’t have the best frequency. From memory they were from 18 to 36 Hz. That’s not ideal, but gave some increase in circulation. With the proper equipment we can do better.

When and how long to apply the massage

So when and how long do you apply it for? In the trials they did things like long daily applications such as 30-60 minutes. We can do a bit better though. In trials where scientists have used vibration to increase circulation they’ve found that when you apply the 50 hz the circulation will rise steadily for about two minutes, then level off for as long as you keep applying the vibration. What happens though is when you stop the vibration the circulation takes over 30 minutes to slowly go back to normal.

Because of that, instead of sitting there with the machine on for 30-60 minutes use several applications of a few minutes each. Every time you do that you bring the circulation up to the high level, then get 30 minutes of raised circulation while it goes back to normal.

The demonstration

With that I’ll give you a simple demonstration. I’ve put the guide to choosing a massager in the description, but when you go looking you’ll find that 95% are either “consumer” machines designed to be mothers day presents rather than genuine therapeutic devices, massage guns, or both. That’s why a few years back we built our own.

The General Purpose Massager

This is our General Purpose Massager. You’ll see it has the vibrating head that’s optimised to give the therapeutic vibrations, and a proper ergonomically designed handle so you can easily use it anywhere on your body. The on/off switch is underneath, and it has a variable speed control on top. It runs from about 30 to 60 hz. If you remember I said that around 50 hz is good for increasing circulation, so you’d use this machine at about 80-90% of full power.

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 quad head massager

Our other machine is the quad head massager. Now if we look back at the construction compactor it has a really large vibration plate at the bottom. There are some vibration massagers that copy this idea. The problem is that the laws of physics say that if you have a really large vibration plate your machine is going to have to be really heavy and it’s going to vibrate like hell. We actually had a machine like that in college and our hands would go numb after using it for a while. What we’ve done with the quad is have four heads so some are going down while others are going up. That means it delivers the full amount of therapeutic vibrations, but the mechanical vibrations in the machine largely cancel out. In other words you get the full benefits of a big heavy machine, but it’s lighter and much nicer to use.

For dealing with cellulite this machine will easily and comfortably deliver huge amounts of therapeutic vibrations to increase circulation. The General Purpose Massager will do a great job, but works on a smaller area with less total vibration, so it will take a bit longer.

Now for the demo. I’ll use the General Purpose Massager because it’s single head mechanism is quieter so I can talk on the video at the same time as using it. All I do is working through a layer of cloth or clothing set the machine at about 80-90% and sit the machine on the cellulite tissue. You just have enough pressure so the machine keeps a good contact. There’s no need to press in or move the machine around. All you do is leave it on the spot for three or four minutes while the circulation increases. As I said before once you take the massager off you’ll get increased circulation for about half an hour. All you do then is have some system or pattern so you can apply three or four minutes to each part that needs it. This is why the quad is so good. Because it covers a larger area and sends in a much greater volume of vibrations you’ll need less of those three to four minute applications.

This is very safe and quite easy to do so you can repeat multiple times each day if you wish. Within reason, the more time you do it the more times your circulation is increased to re-absorb the fat.

Anyway, if you have any questions or comments feel free to email me or pop the in the comments. If you want to get one of our massagers just go to our website. We can send one direst, or there’s about a thousand clinics that use, recommend and sell them. Thanks very much for watching. It’s been most appreciated.

Professionals

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.

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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