Skin Research Spotlight: Body Work for Cellulite

The latest on massage based treatments for cellulite. 

Credits: Allef Vinicius at

Cellulite is a condition in which adipose tissue, or fat, penetrates through the dermis (the middle layer of the skin). This results in the characteristic “dimpling.” Although cellulite is not harmful in and of itself, its cosmetic appearance can be bothersome. If you struggle with cellulite, you’re not alone! It’s believed that 85-95% of females are affected by this condition. The cause of cellulite is still up for debate and finding an effective treatment has been difficult. The high cost and invasive nature of current treatments, such as liposuction, make the utility of a non-invasive method quite significant for people with cellulite.

study published in the Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology studied how cellulite is influenced by the use of mechanical massage, manual lymphatic drainage, and connective tissue manipulation. A total of sixty participants were separated into three groups of twenty as shown here:

  • Group 1 (treated with mechanical massage): The treated areas were massaged using a machine that uses a combination of suction (to apply negative pressure) and rollers (to apply positive pressure). Participants in this group received three treatment sessions per week for five weeks.
  • Group 2 (treated with manual lymphatic drainage): Participants were treated by having their lymph, in the treatment area, manually pushed into the lymph nodes, which were then stimulated to promote movement of the lymph fluid. Participants in this group received four treatment sessions per week for five weeks.
  • Group 3 (treated with connective tissue manipulation): This technique applies traction to the skin in a way that stimulates the underlying tissue. Theory holds that doing so stimulates the autonomic nervous system. Participants in this group received four treatment session per week for five weeks.

Participants of all groups were asked not to exercise or deviate from their normal diets, to control for other factors that may affect cellulite.

The results of this 5-week study showed that overall, the three treatments reduced the fat thickness between 6-15% in the abdomen and thigh area. While the fat thickness varied slightly for each treatment, these differences were not statistically significant, and we can therefore assume the treatments were equally effective. The researchers were able to successfully control for fat reduction, and there was no difference in the fat percent before and after treatment in any of the groups. This means that only fat thickness (a likely indicator of cellulite) was reduced.

Conclusion: Overall, this study showed that using mechanical massage, manual lymphatic drainage, and connective tissue manipulation techniques resulted in similarly positive outcomes for the reduction of fat thickness and the treatment of cellulite. However, since the researchers did not include a “control” group that received no treatment, we do not know if the same results would have occurred without treatment. Therefore, while this study is promising (as all of the women in the study showed improvement), future studies should incorporate a “control” group as a comparison. Further, this study was limited to five weeks. More long-term studies are needed to determine whether the improvements are long-lasting.

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