If I had a nickel every time someone asked me about cellulite I would probably be able to take my wife out for ice cream (in San Francisco!).
I’ve talked with a lot of clients and students about this topic and I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring so to speak and let you know what comes to the mind of a bodyworker who has studied fascia up close and personal (ie dissection) with regards to cellulite.
First off, let’s agree that cellulite is a ‘dimpling’ of the skin. Where it resides on the human body and the percentage of men vs women who get cellulite is out there so I won’t into the stats. Those who have it know full well where it’s hanging out!
Let’s go back to this dimpling part. And let’s do this by looking at the following image:
The image on the left shows the dimpling we know so well. The image on the right shows smooth skin. What’s the big difference between the two? There are a couple of major things to note here. First off, the yellow circles are bigger on the left hand side image compared to the right. Those yellow circles represent fat cells. The other major difference are those white vertical lines. Those lines represent collagen fibers, often called Connective Tissue (or, Fascia). When adipose tissue (fat, again, as seen by those yellowish spheres) becomes larger, they crowd up to the surface layer of the skin, making the collagen fibers taut. Some fibers will give more than other fibers and you will see a ‘dimpling’ in the skin. Imagine a seat cushion like this one:
In this seat cushion you can imagine that the areas where the cushion is pinched inwards is doing so because the there is a string/thread that doesn’t let the cushion plump. That’s what the collagen fibers/connective tissue could be like inside a person. The dimpling in the cushion can represent the dimpling of cellulite. Some fibers may be longer or have more room to give than others and thus some areas bulge out more than others. Couple that with oversize fat cells and you’ve got some dimpling! So let’s move on.
In the case of the seat cushion I could just snip the threads that pinched inwards and the seat cushion wouldn’t have the same look as before. In the case of the human body those threads are the vertical white lines that are made up of collagen fibers.
Collagen is extremely strong. So strong in fact that it has the tensile strength (the resistance to break under tension) of soft steel (pound for pound about 42,000 lbs per square inch). That’s incredibly strong.
And here’s what we know so far about cellulite. In order to get rid of the condition there are two things that can be done:
1. Decrease the size of the fat cells (this can be done by decreasing the deposit of fat through diet and exercise).
2. Cut the collagen fibers that are contributing to the dimpling effect.
That’s pretty much it folks. Let’s breakdown option number 1.
With option number 1 the person would have to change the way they eat (less calories) and increase their physical activity. Dieting has been documented to have mixed efficacy. Just remember back to the last time you dieted and you’ll know how difficult it is to maintain a certain weight after dieting.
With option number 2 we need to go back to the fact that collagen fibers are extremely strong. In order to cut or snip those fibers we would need a cutting tool. Right now an effective cutting tool for this type of issue is a laser cutting tool so it makes sense that most effective methods for cellulite treatment involve laser cutting. The laser penetrates under the skin layer and trims collagen fibers. The adipose cells then are free to plump in the areas where they were previously restricted and the look of cellulite is diminished. Some laser machines also involve suction and skin manipulation. The medical/cosmetic community is still gathering data on this process as more patients undergo the treatment.
So, now that we know what can work with cellulite what about all those other options we see on late night tv?
All other options fall under two categories, manual therapy alone and plastic tools, both meant to treat cellulite. The effectiveness of both can be addressed together.
Because of what we know about the strength of the collagen fibers (yes, it’s a fact) no amount of pressure from an elbow via manual therapy or any plastic tool (no matter how vigorously your scrape away at yourself) will ever tear at the collagen fibers. Maybe something like this could do it though:
So, you might be thinking: “Marty if you’re so right then how come when I use my (insert latest name of fascial therapy plastic for sale out there) that it looks like my cellulite is gone?!”
Well, I’ve got an idea as to what’s happening. If someone vigorously scrapes their skin and does so with enough depth and enough force, they will create an inflammation effect. The skin will become red, swollen, and inflamed. In this case, the look of cellulite will diminish because the swelling has plumped up the tissue. After being sued for deceptive advertising, one maker of these scrapers changed their tune and stated that their product “diminishes the appearance of cellulite” after originally claiming to getting rid of cellulite.
So what’s a person to do if they have cellulite? Well, proper diet and exercise could help but it’s not a guarantee. The other choice is to live your life knowing I (and I’m sure countless other people) care for you and think you’re a pretty cool person regardless of how taut your collagen fibers are. <3