What causes cellulite?

Everyone knows me as the obsessed “fascia-nista” dedicated to educating people on how to eliminate or avoid chronic pain. But this time around, I want to discuss another issue (some people feel this topic is even more horrific)—CELLULITE!

I know, I know, I’m like the bearer of bad news when it comes to the not-so-delightful signs of aging. Instead of just talking about what people can do to help eliminate the lumpy bumps on the back of the legs, let’s start with a question most people never consider: “What causes cellulite?”

If we spent a moment understanding what causes the lumps, we would never have to spend time getting rid of it. It’s easier to avoid it than to fix it. So let me tell you what actually causes the lumps. Most people think it’s a fat problem, but cellulite is a connective tissue issue more than a fat issue.

People believe cellulite is “excess fat storage.” But if that were true, well, only overweight people would have cellulite. But even skinny people still complain of the lumps. Yes, it does have something to do with fat and how our body manages stress (storing too much fat does have a direct correlation to our metabolism and how our body produces stress hormones), but the thing people need to understand is where it’s being stored.

Fat loves to live in the connective tissue system—more specifically, the layer that attaches to the underside of your skin. It’s called the superficial fascia. This is the supportive infrastructure of your body that keeps your skin supple, youthful, and lifted. It’s one definable layer of the three-dimensional system that supports, protects, and stabilizes all the systems of your body. When fat gets deposited in this tissue, it alters the fluid state of this collagen matrix. Connective tissue is mostly a collagen-based system. If all you do is lose weight, guess what? You don’t repair the damage in the collagen, thus the cellulite and sagging skin tends to look WORSE!

The cells attract fluid into the matrix to bind with the collagen molecules. Think of your connective tissue like a sponge: When this tissue is hydrated, it’s flexible and can morph and adapt to any movement we make. However, when fat deposits into this tissue, it gets trapped in the nooks and crannies of this dynamic system, which are called microvacoules. These “spaces” between the collagen fibers get filled with fat cells and tugs on the collagen fibers.

What we know about collagen is, if you pull or compress the tissue for long periods of time it causes the matrix to collapse and become less stable and resilient. The fat replaces the vital fluid in those compartments and slowly the collagen loses its integrity and the fat pokes through the matrix.

If that’s not bad enough, there are two more issues with the breakdown of this tissue. When fat lives in the connective tissue layer under your skin, the fat cells MULTIPLY! Yikes. It’s like getting gum stuck in your hair. The fibers of collagen weave and collapse into the fat cells. And, boom, you see lumps.

To add insult to injury, if you compress or pull on connective tissue for long periods of time, it causes a dehydration effect. When do you compress the back of your thighs for long periods of time? When you SIT! And most people are sitting for long periods of time, which damages the collagen, and you are depositing fat and it’s multiplying and now you are further increasing stress and the stress response of your metabolic system. You are down the rabbit hole.

What can we do?

So is there something we can do to avoid the lumps on the back of our legs? YES! In the MELT Method book, there’s a sequence called the Lower Body Compression Sequence. Do this sequence EVERY DAY so you constantly stimulate the system. Interestingly, the very thing that causes dehydration in this tissue can rehydrate it if you know how. Learning how to compress this tissue in a positive way helps juice the tissue back up.

Here are some other key tips and techniques to restoring the fluid state of your connective tissue and keeping your legs lump-free:

  1. Water. Drink water consistently throughout the day.
  2. Get up and move! Get out of your chair every 30-45 minutes! You don’t need to do much. Just stand up, stretch like a cat, take some deep breaths, and if you can, do a lap around your house or office. Stand for a minimum of one minute every 30 minutes and you will really help this issue A LOT!
  3. Massage. If you have the time and money, get a massage from a qualified massage therapist! Of course, most of us don’t have time or money to do this every day, but if you MELT in between some focused massage sessions, you will support this tissue even more!
  4. Vibration tools. Any type of vibrational tool on your body is GOOD. I found something called the Body Buffer. It looks like a car buffer, but I love that thing and it offers other benefits to the skin surface too!
  5. Basic, gentle stretching and consistent activity. Both are beneficial for good circulation and the benefits are far-reaching. Get up and move!
  6. One more thing, treat your skin well. Use sunscreen when you are in the sun, moisturize, and care for your skin.

So remember, cellulite is a connective tissue issue and you can reduce the signs of it by stimulating the tissue daily. The skin is simply showing the impression of what’s damaged just under the surface.

Beauty is not skin deep, it’s connective tissue deep—and connective tissue is a whole-body system that you can support. Give it a try and leave the lumps to your oatmeal!

Originally posted June 24, 2014

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