There may be a way to treat cellulite without taking drastic measures or spending a ton of money on creams, according to a new study.
The study, published in the medical journal Cogent Medicine, looked specifically at the effects of fascia manipulation on cellulite in adult women. Fascial manipulation is a type of manual massage treatment typically employed for pain relief, according to Northern Edge Physical Therapy. In the study, the subjects used a specific fascial massage tool called the FasciaBlaster; it features rounded plastic massage claws placed in a line along a rod that you rub over the areas you want to treat. Similar products on the market also claim to treat fascia and help with the appearance of cellulite.
Fascia “are vertical bands of connective tissue that attach to the underside of the skin,” Dr. Manish Shah, a Denver-based plastic surgeon, told HuffPost. The facia bands encase pockets of fat and as the bands stretch, you’re left with the bumpy appearance of cellulite on the surface of the skin, Shah said.
The study concluded that regular use of a personal fascial manipulation massage tool, which is a low-cost alternative to invasive surgeries and luxury creams, can be effective in reducing the appearance of cellulite. But do the effects last? HuffPost spoke to doctors to get some answers.
First, a little primer on cellulite.
Countless articles have been written on cellulite and whether there’s anything out there that can actually erase it. As we’ve noted in the past, it’s believed that between 80% to 90% percent of women have cellulite, which is the dimpled appearance of the skin that often appears on the thighs, butt and hips. Men can have cellulite as well, though it’s not nearly as common because the structure of their connective tissue is different from women’s.
Cellulite “is caused by bulging of fat pockets through the fascial connections under the skin. It leads to a cobblestone or cottage cheese appearance on the skin,” Shah said.
“There are a number of hormonal, genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of cellulite,” he added. “Lower estrogen and tissue blood supply with aging cause decreases in collagen in the connective tissue fibers. They weaken and the bulging worsens. The skin also thins, making the fat pockets more visible. A diet rich in fats, carbs and salt also leads to more cellulite formation.”
Other factors that can contribute to cellulite include the way women store fat in their bodies ― in columns, versus in a lattice, like in men’s bodies ― and hormone levels. Poor circulation is also thought to be a contributor.
To put it plainly, there isn’t really a “magic cure” for cellulite, Dr. Anne Chapas told HuffPost in 2018.
That brings us to this new study.
Forty-three adult women participated in the recent study, which took place over 12 weeks. Thirty-three of them were shown how to properly employ fascia manipulation techniques using devices in the FasciaBlaster family and instructed to use the tools five days a week throughout the study period. The other 10 did not do any fascial manipulation.
When you use the tool with the “appropriate amount of pressure and oil lubrication,” it essentially grips the skin and stretches and pulls on the fascia beneath the skin, releasing the adhesions or scar tissue under the skin that can lead to the appearance of cellulite, said Dr. Swet Chaudhari, a plastic surgeon and one of the study’s authors. When you release that scar tissue or allow it to remodel, he added, “you’re effectively improving the appearance of cellulite.”
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York, noted that massage techniques have long been used as a treatment for cellulite. She referred to the 1950s “fat jiggling” machines people used as an example.
“The massage factor is meant to address lymphatic and blood circulation,” Nazarian said. “There were some studies done a while ago that perhaps showed there was an element of hypoxia or low oxygen in those areas of tissue, which was triggering some of the changes we were seeing in the tissue as a response to poor blood circulation.”
The lymphatic system is also thought to have a role when it comes to the formation of cellulite, Nazarian said, adding, “when you’re doing massage, you’re effectively addressing both.” She also said that applying manual pressure over the skin can help stimulate collagen production, which is a benefit.
It should be noted that the study looked at the effects of one specific brand of personal massaging tools and the test group was quite small. Still, as Nazarian explained, “The study potentially may open the door for a slightly increased understanding about some of the other minutia behind what’s happening when you have cellulite.”
According to the study’s findings, fascia manipulation techniques proved to be successful in decreasing the “subcutaneous adipose tissue” and reducing the appearance of cellulite over the 12-week period. The study also found that the subjects who used the massage device saw an increase in their metabolism.
There’s a bit of a catch, though.
While the doctors we spoke to agreed that certain massaging techniques and tools, including items like the FasciaBlaster, can help reduce the look of cellulite, they don’t believe they’re a permanent solution for curing it. Once you stop using the tool, your connective tissue will tighten back up, enhancing the appearance of cellulite.
“Cure is a strong word, because it implies that once you do it, it’s over and it’s gone and it’s done,” Chaudhari said. With the fascia manipulation, he said, “You have to continue to do it” to see continued results. In terms of the FasciaBlaster tool, Chaudhari said, “Its effects are limited to the time you’re using it.”
Shah said he recommends some of his patients use the FasciaBlaster after undergoing non-invasive fat reduction treatments.
“I do believe that deep tissue restructuring with a tool like the FasciaBlaster helps to reduce the appearance of cellulite, but I don’t believe it reduces cellulite,” he said.
For what it’s worth, Nazarian said the study’s results weren’t totally surprising, especially given that massage techniques have been used for cellulite treatment before. She said that even a good massage or a technique like dry-brushing or foam rolling could also provide some benefits in treating cellulite, “but that doesn’t mean it helps long term.”
At present, Nazarian said that laser treatments that actually go in and snip the fibrous bands that contribute to the dimpling associated with cellulite are most effective. (One such treatment is called Cellulaze.)
But as Shah cautioned: “The problem of cellulite is one that doctors have been trying to fix for a very long time. It is clear that more research needs to be done in developing better treatments for cellulite.”