In a world of misinformation, Fitness Pudding is here to separate fact from fallacy, and science from fiction.

Massaging Fat Away?

Massaging Fat Away?

Fat Belt 1Vibration machines have been popular for a long time, and most of us probably have an image of the machines that use a belt to vigorously shake our fat away, or steamrollers to flatten fat to smithereens.

We have known for quite a while that these contraptions do not work. A review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine states regarding such devices, "the usefulness of coarse vibration devices, often promoted by beauty salons as a way of removing fat, is highly questionable."5

Massage and Body Contouring

However, the idea of 'non-invasive body contouring' still remains a thriving industry. There has been recent question if mechanical massage, much like vibration, could help us lose fat. Popular mechanical massagers, such as Endermologie, suggest that, "mechanical stimulation on the surface of the skin sends a signal deep down to the cells (ex: fat cells and fibroblasts) to provoke a physiological response (ex: activation of collagen and elastin production or activation of lipolysis)."

I am unaware of research that supports the effectiveness of such a physiological process in promoting fat loss. There is evidence that hard enough massage can damage fat cells, causing loss of a small percentage, while deforming the remaining 80%.10 However, just because the cells are damaged, does not mean that the body will automatically use the fat for energy purposes – leading to fat loss.

Massage Devices

Most of the evidence cited in favor of body contouring massage looks at total body circumference changes, which the total change across several (5-8) body parts. After 7-15 weeks of treatment with Endermologie, changes have ranged from 1.34 to 3 cm.4,6

For perspective, 1 cm is about the length of 2 grains of rice.

However, we are looking at a few specific studies, with the most positive results. Two reviews have concluded that Endermologie is not an effective treatment for fat loss and cellulite.1,12 In addition, A recent review (2015) of all the research that used non-invasive contouring devices concluded,7

"There is little high-level evidence in the present literature to support the effectiveness of any of these devices."

The New Wave

Well, times have changed since the simple archaic jigglers or rollers of the past, to more high-tech lasers, shockers, and vacuum suckers.

For example, research has looked at the VelaSmooth machine (~$2,000), which applies mechanical massage, infrared light, suction, and electrical currents to the body area. On particular study was pretty cool, because the researchers only treated one buttock (the right), to compare to the untreated side (the left). After 2 months, no major changes were seen in cellulite appearance on the right buttock versus the left, or in the size of the fat cells (see images below).9

 

cellulite change
fat cell size change

TOP IMAGE: Patient no. 6 (28-year-old female) at baseline and 2 months after the final (12th) treatment session. Only the right buttock has been treated.9

BOTTOM IMAGE: Fat cells (adipocytes) from a patient before (left panel) and 2 hours after the first treatment session.9

 
Another study used 4 treatments of similar massage machine (VelaShape) on the back of the upper arms and lower abdominals in women, at least 9 months post-partum.3 There was a negligible 0.6 cm average loss in the upper arm circumference. For the abdominals, there was about a 1.1 cm loss in circumference. Here is an example of a single patient who lost 1.8 cm in her arm. Big difference?

arm circumference

Conclusion

There are many wonderful benefits to massage, such as stress reduction, muscle relaxation and relief, and improved mood. However, based on the current research evidence, the myth that mechanical massage is an effective treatment for fat loss is busted.

In many studies, diet or exercise were not controlled for, and the change in circumference was also associated with weight loss – making it very difficult to determine if any effects of the massage were actually due to these other things. Also, perception of changes are tricky, because of a potential 'placebo effect', where participants 'believe' that it worked, but it really did nothing. Unfortunately, research in this area has not investigated a potential placebo effect.

Studies have shown changes from about 0 cm to 3 cm average reduction in total body circumferences from some form of mechanical massage (1 cm = length of 2 grains of rice).

For comparison, a healthy diet and moderate intensity physical activity 3 days per week for 5 months in overweight women has shown an average weight loss of 27 pounds, with 18 pounds of fat loss, 9 cm lost in the waist, and 10 cm lost in the hips!8

As always, regular physical activity and healthy eating will win every time. Choose wisely.

See Also: Body Wraps and Fat Loss | What is Cellulite? | Sweating Fat Away

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References

  1. Avram, M. (2004). Cellulite: a review of its physiology and treatment. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 6, 181-185.
  2. Bayrakci Tunay, V., Akbayrak, T., Bakar, Y., Kayihan, H., & Ergun, N. (2010). Effects of mechanical massage, manual lymphatic drainage and connective tissue manipulation techniques on fat mass in women with cellulite. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 24(2), 138-142.
  3. Brightman, L., Weiss, E., Chapas, A. M., Karen, J., Hale, E., Bernstein, L., & Geronemus, R. G. (2009). Improvement in arm and post‐partum abdominal and flank subcutaneous fat deposits and skin laxity using a bipolar radiofrequency, infrared, vacuum and mechanical massage device. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, 41(10), 791-798.
  4. Chang, P., Wiseman, J., Jacoby, T., Salisbury, A. V., & Ersek, R. A. (1998). Noninvasive mechanical body contouring:(Endermologie) a one-year clinical outcome study update. Aesthetic plastic surgery, 22(2), 145-153.
  5. Goats, G. C. (1994). Massage--the scientific basis of an ancient art: Part 1. The techniques. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(3), 149-152.
  6. Kutlubay, Z., Songur, A., Engіn, B., Khatіb, R., Calay, Ö., & Serdaroglu, S. (2013). An alternative treatment modality for cellulite: LPG endermologie. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 15(5), 266-270.
  7. Nassab, R. (2015). The Evidence Behind Noninvasive Body Contouring Devices. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, sju063.
  8. Nickas, B.J., Wang, X, You, T., Lyles, M.F., et al. (2009). Effect of exercise intensity on abdominal fat loss during calorie restriction in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: A randomized, controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89, 1043-1052.
  9. Romero, C., Caballero, N., Herrero, M., RuÍz, R., Sadick, N. S., & Trelles, M. A. (2008). Effects of cellulite treatment with RF, IR light, mechanical massage and suction treating one buttock with the contralateral as a control. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 10(4), 193-201.
  10. Shiffman, M. A., & Mirrafati, S. (2001). Fat transfer techniques: the effect of harvest and transfer methods on adipocyte viability and review of the literature. Dermatologic Surgery, 27(9), 819-826.
  11. Tülin Güleç, A. (2009). Treatment of cellulite with LPG endermologie. International Journal of Dermatology, 48(3), 265-270.
  12. Van Vliet, M., Ortiz, A., Avram, M.M, and Yamauchi, P.S. (2005). An assessment of traditional and novel therapies for cellulite. Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, 7, 7-10.

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