Can self-myofascial release with a foam roller help reduce the appearance of cellulite? by Sally Pears
Cellulite: “cellulite is defined as a localized metabolic disorder of subcutaneous tissue that provokes an alteration in the female body shape. It presents as a modification of skin topography evident by skin dimpling and nodularity that occurs mainly in women on the pelvic region, lower limbs, and abdomen and is caused by the herniation of subcutaneous fat within fibrous connective tissue, leading to a padded or orange peel-like appearance.” [Khan et al. 2010a1]
Self-myofascial release: “A “self-massage” technique generally performed by moving the desired muscle(s) over a foam roller with the goals of increasing flexibility via the general decrease of muscular adhesions.” [web definition]
Recently I have heard a lot of talk about the benefits of using a foam roller for self-myofascial release – supposedly this form of self-massage can correct muscle imbalances, increase joint range of motion, decrease muscle soreness, relieve joint stress, and increase neuromuscular efficiency. Grand claims indeed. So which claim did I decide to investigate to see whether there was any scientific evidence backing it? Well, I chose the claim that regular use of a foam roller can help reduce the appearance of cellulite. This might seem like a rather trivial claim to choose to examine. However, my reasons for choosing this avenue of investigation were two-fold. Firstly, unlike sub-optimum joint range of motion or neuromuscular efficiency, cellulite is something visible that many women are aware of, and that they will go to great lengths to reduce – I’m fairly confident that recommending regular SMR to reduce cellulite would inspire more women to spend their valuable time rolling around on a piece of foam than telling them that the same technique would decrease muscle soreness. Secondly, and rather naively as it turns out, I thought that there would be a decent amount of research in this area – while I didn’t expect there to be many studies actually investigating the use of a foam-roller, or even myofascial release, I did think that I would find a number of studies that would have investigated the effects of massage techniques on the appearance of cellulite…boy was I wrong.
So why could SMR using a foam roller have a beneficial effect on cellulite? Well, a number of online sources claim that foam rolling ‘increases the flow of nutrient rich blood [to the targeted areas], “helps to stretch connective tissue and improve circulation” and “enables the body to expel abnormal fluid retention and toxins.” But is there any scientific evidence supporting these claims? Well, as it turns out, not really. As I alluded to earlier, there is actually very little research in this area at all [for reviews see Avram, 20042; Khan et al. 2010b3]. As far as I am aware no studies have been conducted that directly investigated the effect of foam rolling on the appearance of cellulite, and the only studies I found that were remotely relevant were those that investigated the effects of other massage techniques such as Endermologie (a skin kneading / suction massage technique that mobilizes the subcutaneous fat in affected areas and increases subdermal lymphatic and vascular flow). Furthermore, what little research has been conducted has reported negative findings or has been inconclusive. For example, one 12 week study by Collis et al. 4 compared the effect of Endermologie and aminophylline cream and found no significant benefit of either of the treatments on the appearance of cellulite. However, in this study the Endermologie massage treatment was only given for 10minutes twice a week – it is possible that a higher frequency of treatment (3-5 x week) might have produced more noticeable effects.
Based on the scientific literature I can only conclude that there is no evidence that using a foam roller can reduce the appearance of cellulite. However, this lack of evidence is more due to a lack of adequate research than it is to a lack of a significant treatment effect. More research is certainly needed in this area for definitive conclusions to be drawn. Unfortunately, given that cellulite does not pose a major health problem, there is unlikely to be much government funding allocated to the research of effective treatments.
So where does that leave us? Should we recommend foam rolling as a means of potentially reducing cellulite? My own personal feeling is that we should – there are numerous anecdotal reports of people who claim to have seen improvements in their own cellulite after consistently using a foam roller, and just because there is a lack of scientific evidence doesn’t mean that a technique is not effective (no studies have shown that sleeping in your makeup is bad for your skin either but experience has shown most of us women that it’s not a good idea).
Cellulite and Foam Rolling Case Study Database
If you do choose to recommend foam rolling to your clients (or friends) who want to get rid of their cellulite, why not join us in documenting your own ‘case studies’ and contribute to our Fitness Newspaper ‘Cellulite and Foam Rolling Database’. To be included in our ongoing ‘study’ you’ll need to collect the following information:
- Take before and after pictures – client needs to be wearing the same clothes and standing with the same posture; lighting and background need to be constant; use the same camera and keep the distance from the camera constant.
- Client’s weight before and after.
- What type of foam roller was used? (e.g. soft, the GRID, RumbleRoller etc.)
- What areas did the client roll and for how long (e.g. glutes, hamstrings and quads for 1min each).
- How frequently did the client use the roller and for how long? (e.g. 2 days per week for 8 weeks).
- Did the client’s diet change between the before and after photos? If so, how?
- Did the client’s exercise habits change between the before and after photos? If so, how?
- Did the client’s caffeine consumption change between the before and after photos? If so, how?
- Are there any other factors that you can think of that might have affected the client’s cellulite? E.g. spa treatments, use of a cream etc.
We’d love to hear about your own and your clients experiences of foam rolling and cellulite reduction, and perhaps together we can help shed some light on whether or not this technique is effective as a treatment.
1 Khan et al. (2010a). Treatment of cellulite. Part I. Pathophysiology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 62 (3), pp361-370.
2 Avram (2004). Cellulite: a review of its physiologyand treatment. Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy. 6 (4), 181-185.
3 Khan et al. (2010b). Treatment of cellulite. Part II. Advances and Controversies. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 62 (3), pp373-384.
4 Collins et al. (1999). Cellulite treatment: a myth or reality: a prospective randomized, controlled trial of two therapies, endermologie and aminophylline cream. Plastic Reconstructive Surgery. 104, pp1110-1114.