Can Foam Rolling Improve the Appearance of Cellulite?

image of female exerciser trying to improve the appearance of cellulite in her thighs by using a foam roller

Cottage cheese is good for you – but not when it’s on your thighs! If you have it, you’re in good company. Cellulite is a reality 80 to 90% of women over the age of 20 – and, yes, even thin women who exercise can have it. Unfortunately, you can’t exercise away cellulite as it’s more of a problem with connective tissue than it is body fat. What we need are simple solutions to help fight the lumps and dimples that people with cellulite deal with. You may have heard that foam rolling can improve the appearance of cellulite – is there any truth to this idea?

Cellulite is No Fun!

You might wonder why those dimples and lumps of cellulite appear in the first place. What exactly is it? First, consider your anatomy. Underneath the surface of your skin, you have a layer of fat. Underneath the fat lies muscle tissue. But, tethering the fat to the muscle is thick, cords made of connective tissue. The cords compress the fat. In some cases, this creates an uneven surface that makes the skin above appear dimpled. That’s what you see with cellulite, the uneven surface created by the cords compressing fat.

You might ask why women are more prone to cellulite than men. As unfair as it sounds, only about 10% of men develop cellulite – but why? The thick, connective tissue bands that hold the fat in place are constructed differently in men. In men, the fibrous bands are cross-linked while in women the fibrous bands are arranged more like a picket fence. The picket fence arrangement is weaker than a cross-linked arrangement so the fat can push through more easily.

Cellulite also becomes more visible with aging. That’s partially because the connective tissue bands that hold in fat weaken with age so that the fat can poke out easier. One reason the connective tissue bands weaken is due related to the drop in estrogen after menopause. Estrogen helps preserve collagen tissue, including collagen that makes up the connective tissue bands. As you lose estrogen after menopause, the connective tissue bands weaken due to disruption of healthy collagen. Therefore, cellulite becomes more of a problem later in life, although women as young as their teens can have it as well. As with most things, genetics are a factor too. Weight gain plays a role too. If you put on body fat, there’s more fat underneath the fibrous cords to poke through the gaps and look dimply. Plus, having a lot of body fat can further push up on the cords and weaken them.

Foam Rolling and Cellulite

It would be nice to have a simple way to improve the appearance of cellulite and one such treatment you sometimes hear about it foam rolling, a procedure also called self-myofascial release. You’ve probably seen or used a foam roller yourself. It’s popular as a way to loosen tight muscles but is also gaining popularity as a quick fix for cellulite – but does it work?

Unfortunately, foam rolling won’t repair the underlying problem – the way the connective tissue bands are constructed. It can’t rearrange those or make them stronger. However, foam rolling increases blood flow to the surface of the skin. This causes slight swelling that can temporarily make cellulite look less obvious – but it’s not a cure. In fact, there really isn’t a “cure” for cellulite, although there are modalities that manipulate the skin and underlying fat by vacuuming or rolling it. This increases circulation and creates mild swelling that makes cellulite look better but it’s not a permanent fix. Some spas, dermatologists, and plastic surgeons offer these non-invasive procedures.

Are there other options? If you’re willing to spend more money and go through a little more discomfort, there are other treatments that help the problem long term. One procedure called Cellfina uses tiny needles to release the connective tissue bands that are pulling down on the fat and causing the dimpling. It’s not a cure since you ultimately form more of these bands but you will likely note an improvement that lasts several months up to two years.

Another procedure called vacuum-assisted tissue release cuts the connective tissue bands using a special, vacuum device. This, too, has a good track record of success and the improvement in cellulite can last several years. A more invasive procedure called Cellulaze uses a laser to break up the fibrous bands and improve the appearance of cellulite.

One procedure that doesn’t have a good track record is endermologie, a treatment offered by some spas. This procedure deeply massages the skin and underlying fat while pulling on the skin using a vacuum device. You’ll need more than one treatment and improvements are subtle. You may see some temporary smoothing of the skin but it’s not a permanent fix and some people experience little or no improvement.

What about Topical Treatments To Improve The Appearance Of Cellulite?

You’ve probably seen cellulite creams advertised. Most of these creams, lotions, and potions have no benefit. It’s possible you might notice a slight, temporary improvement due to pressure of massaging the cream in. If it creates slight swelling, the cellulite might temporarily look better, but long-term benefits? Not likely. One type of topical that might offer benefits, according to dermatologists, are creams containing retinol, a vitamin A derivative. Retinoids are a higher-powered version of retinol and is available in prescription skin products used to treat acne and skin aging. They ramp up collagen production. By stimulating collagen production, retinoids may thicken the dermal layer of the skin and improve the appearance of cellulite, although this hasn’t been well researched. It’s also questionable whether retinol, a less high-powered version of retinoids, has enough impact to make a difference.

The Bottom Line

There really isn’t a cure for cellulite, although dermatologists and plastic surgeons can do procedures that may temporarily improve the appearance of cellulite. Lifting weights won’t cure it either, but building up muscle can make cellulite less obvious. Don’t fret too much about cellulite. It’s common! Control your weight by eating a healthy, whole food diet and stay physically active, including strength training. People will be so busy noticing how in shape you are that they won’t see the cellulite.



J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2008 Dec;10(4):193-201. doi: 10.1080/14764170802524403.
American Academy of Dermatology. “Cellulite treatments: What really works?”


Related Articles By Cathe:

What is Fascia and How Does It Impact Your Fitness Training?

Is Cellulite Caused by Fat?

Why Does Cellulite Form on Thighs and Buttocks Rather Than Other Areas?

5 Myths About Cellulite You Shouldn’t Believe

Does Foam Rolling Reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?


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