Why Does Cellulite Hurt?

Many women, myself included, report that cellulite can be physically painful. It’s strange how the mainstream medical community responds to this claim.

Cognitive studies show that people have an overwhelming tendency to discount information that does not fit in with what they expect to see.  It’s not that we see what we want to see, we see what we expect to see.

Most doctors continue to believe that cellulite is purely a cosmetic condition. Therefore if a woman reports that her cellulite hurts, the pain must be a result of a different condition and not the cellulite  (Exhibit A: see the response to this question about painful cellulite on WebMD).  This way they can go on believing that cellulite is harmless and not worth their time to address.

This does not change the fact that many women have noticed that cellulite hurts.  And it doesn’t explain the fact that my cellulite no longer hurts now that I’ve been treating it with success (although I still have some visible rimples and dimples, hence the SAS).

In this month’s Cellulite BOTM, The Cellulite Secret: Why You Have It and How to Lose It, Shonagh Walker acknowledges that cellulite can be painful. She also offers an explanation.

Cellulite develops when fat and fluids accumulate in subcutaneous tissue, the fatty tissue just below the skin.  This tissue is connected to the skin through fibrous bands called septae.  Cellulite forms when these bands become rigid and pull down against the connecting fat cells, creating an uneven appearance on the skin.  As Shonagh explains, nerve endings can also become compressed and tender in this process which accounts for the pain many women experience with cellulite.

What do you think of Shonagh’s explanation?  Do you think it makes sense? Is it overly simplistic? Does YOUR cellulite hurt?

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Charlene says:

That makes sense. It hurts in more way than one though!! :-)


Very true, Charlene!

Anonymous says:

Yes! I found this article because I typed "does cellulite hurt" into the search engine. I just had twins 3 months ago and gained close to 40 pounds during the pregnancy. I have lost 30 pounds and I swear the rest is cellulite! I have not had it before and it hurts!!! I have it on my butt and the back of my thighs. I can feel the pain all day long and especially when I sit down. I can't wait to get rid of it! I told my Mom that it hurts, but she said it must be something else. I told her it wasn't! Once I am done nursing the twins, treating the cellulite will be my next concern!

Julie says:

I am the same way! Everything your explaining is me! It even hurts to sit in a hot bath. I feel your pain. Congrats on the twins!!!!

rosy says:

I always wondered why my fat hurt. Guess its my cellulite. Even when my cat walks across my legs it realy hurts. I cant go for a massage, as it hurts too much on my lower back, legs, butt and upper arms. I bruise almost instantly and could never figure out why. Ive tried over and over again to lose but seem to go up and down. Not sure what to do.


Congratulations on the twins! How exciting!! A lot of women report in increase in cellulite after pregnancy. But I've also heard reports that it goes away with breast feeding. Let's hope it works for you! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It's so nice to hear from new cellulite investigators.

sue fajardo says:

I have a cellulite dimple on my buttocks in it is so painful, it’s been painful for 3 years now. it’s a deep pimple and i have to massage daily but the pain won’t go away. what can i do to minimize this pain? or to treat my cellulite overall?


My cellulite was painful in certain spots, too. This went away once I started taking better care of my lymphatic system and eating a nutrient-dense diet. I started with dry brushing. It won’t cure all your cellulite, but it’s a simple and effective treatment to start with. We’ve discussed lots of other steps you can take to treat cellulite here at The Cellulite Investigation, so please poke around the site and see which ideas resonate most with you. Thanks for stopping by!

Nyuki says:

My cellulite hurts really bad since my son was born last July. I cannot wait to get rid of it any way possible. I can’t even wrestle with my husband anymore because every time he touches my thighs even slightly, that annoying, lingering pain comes through. Ugh! Complete turn off.


Pregnancy can have that effect, unfortunately. I hope you find some good ideas here for treating the dreaded blight, Nyuki. Let me know if you have any questions/suggestions and thanks for your comment!

kristi says:

Painful indeed! I thought I was the only one! I can’t do certain exercises, because lying on the side of my thighs is literally unbearable. It’s a similar feeling to applying pressure to a terrible bruise. I will never forget the pain of the one Pilates mat class I took! The horrors. There is definitely something toxic about this blight. I suspect if it were more common in men there would be a cure already. I too shriek in pain when my guy goes to squeeze my thigh. He has no idea why. Ugh.

I have to say that I’m still skeptical about the fibrous bands bit. My own cellulite is very large lumps, and this doesn’t seem like it could be caused by loads of tiny hardened bands. It feels more like fat cells that are bloated with toxins or fluid of some type. Does anyone know where does this theory actually comes from? Have these hardened, fibrous connective tissues ever been observed? I’d like to see a cross section of tissue with this condition.

I once read about a Dr. in the South whose technique was to perform a mini surgery on each major dimple by surgically cutting these ‘bands’. I wanted it to make sense to my desperate mind:), however, I am a skeptic first and foremost. I figured if everyone wasn’t rushing to perform this same technique in NYC, where I lived at the time, then it must not be very effective- if at all. He is nowhere to be found now. I will see If I can dig up the info on my hard drive…..


Kristi, are you referring to subcision? I wrote a post about it last summer. The thought of it makes me skin crawl. You are right, there is a good reason this procedure is not popular.

About the fibrous bands, yes, they have observed those in scientific studies. I need to look up the references for you. The bands are called septa. Dermatologists like Amy Newburger believe you can predict which women will develop cellulite from birth based on the density of septa bands in their skin. Lymphatic congestion plays a major role in the formation of cellulite, too. I believe it is what causes the hardened septa bands by restricting circulation of critical nutrients.

Thanks for adding your experience with cellulite to our files here! It is important that we realize cellulite is not purely a cosmetic condition!

Kristi says:

Ack! Yes, subcision! And that’s exactly the doctor I’m talking about! Scary.

Well, I guess I have to accept this septa business now:) I just don’t understand how they can cause such large lumps. I can understand the orange peel look, but what about the type which is comprised of big lumps and large deep dimples?

As for predicting cellulite, what about babies that already have visible cellulite? Is that even cellulite? Is it a foreshadowing of an adulthood spent battling the beast? I’ve always wondered that.

My brother has cellulite too. He’s quite a bit overweight, so that can’t help… but it’s there. I’ve seen it. Yet my mother has very little. Nothing compared to me. Mind you, she has lived a VERY pure life. The biggest difference between her and I is that she has never consumed alcohol in her life.

But the other thing is that I have had at least one BIG dimple on my thigh since childhood. And of course it’s just worsened with every year that goes by. I have been aware of cellulite and very self conscious of it since the age of 11 or so. I just didn’t know what it was called until I was in my 20’s. And I can tell you it has always hurt. You are so right. It’s imperative that we make it known that it is definitely more than a cosmetic issue.


More great questions, Kristi. I wish I knew the answers to them, too. There hasn’t been much research on cellulite because the medical community does not consider it to be a serious issue. The studies that are out there are usually conducted to test a certain treatment or product. (btw, I just remembered this study about septa bands, on guinea pigs no less.)

I wonder if the size and shape of the dimples depend on the type of substances that are causing the lymphatic congestion. Perhaps it depends on how the membranes around the fat cells are being disrupted. I’ve wondered about the baby cellulite. I need to investigate that one more. If you come across any relevant info, please let me know.

I have one large dimple on my thigh, too. It’s so stubborn. I know I will be fully recovered when that one is gone. I noticed Britney Spears’ cellulite has the same dimple (see the picture of her in the yellow shorts). I wonder why that is…

I’ve read that men can develop cellulite if they have too much estrogen in their system. (See the section under Gender, Fat, and Cellulite). As for our mothers, their generation grew up in a different world. It might seem like alcohol is the biggest difference, but there are so many other differences we don’t even notice because they just seem “normal” now. The food supply and the environment have undergone major changes that most of us barely notice. Our parent’s generation did not have nearly as many pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other cellulite-contributors to deal with.

Noura says:

Mine hurt too! :-) I have extremely toned lower limbs but this year I kind of stopped exercising on regular basis, that’s when I developed cellulite on my thighs.


I read that women with really toned legs, such as ballet dancers, get a form of cellulite that is harder and typically more painful than the soft kind. Would you say your experience with cellulite supports that claim? Thanks for your comment, Noura!

Ashley says:

Hi Melissa! This is so interesting to read, cause I am a ballet dancer with cellulite. I’m a petite girl with a toned body and I’m in activity at least 5-6 hours a day, and have a healthy diet. I’ve always been skinny, but started getting it already at 16-17. I just don’t understand why it came, and why it won’t go away.. It’s painful too, but being a dancer I’m used to pain, so my biggest concern is the appearance, especially since a ballet leotard doesn’t hide a lot..;) Anyone has experience with a deep tissue massage? Any other tips, except surgery?


Hi, Ashley. Great to hear from you! Thanks for your comment! I had long heard and suspected ballet dancers can have cellulite, but it’s always good to gather extra evidence. Cases like yours are really interesting because they disprove a lot of the commonly held notions about cellulite. It’s CAN’T be all about fat, muscle tone and exercise.

Based on our investigation so far, the most plausible theory is that cellulite is caused by toxins stored under the skin. In the last few years since I launched this site, I’ve learned that I suffered from fluoride toxicity as a child and now my skin reacts whenever I consume food or drinks that contain fluoride (wrote all about it here: Everything You Need to Know about Fluoride and Acne, aka Fluoroderma). I suspect in cases like yours, it’s possible you are experiencing something similar. It might not be fluoride toxicity, though. Perhaps it’s a food intolerance you don’t know about or something like that. Everyone is different.

I can see why deep tissue massage sound enticing (I love a strong massage!), but the best ones for cellulite seem to be the gentle, surface massages. Cellulite develops when lymphatic circulation is impaired. The lymph vessels under the skin are delicate vessels, sometimes only one cell thick. Lymphatic massage is one option but it takes a skilled practitioner and can be pricey. We are seeing positive results with cupping massage, a form of decompression therapy you can easily do at home. We’re talking about it on the forum here: The Cupping for Cellulite Challenge. Dry brushing is another natural treatment that gets rave reviews in the cellulite department.

You’d think surgery would work because it’s so darn expensive and a surprisingly popular treatment, but I haven’t heard from anyone who was happy with surgical efforts to get rid of cellulite. Lipo might be able to get rid of fat, but it often makes cellulite look worse!

I hope this is enough info to get you started, Ashley. Please let me know if you have any other questions or comments!

jane says:

OMgosh…….finally finally I have found someone who understands what I am talking about!! I have seen several doctors and NO ONE understands what I am saying! the pain in my left thigh is so painful it hurts to barely touch it. I had the tests on my legs to see how my veins were and that was fine, the surgeon cant explain it, my family doctor has no idea. So what is the answer?????


Hi, Jane. Thanks for your comment! Great question. With conditions involving poor circulation, everyone seems to immediately think of the blood circulatory system. One of the most important theories we’ve uncovered at The Cellulite Investigation is that the lymphatic system is a key component in the formation (and reduction) of cellulite. It parallels the blood circulatory system throughout the body, but instead of circulating nutrients and oxygen to the cells, it’s main purpose is to remove cellular waste.

If you suspect you have lymphatic congestion that is causing tenderness in your legs, one simple yet effective treatment to try is dry skin brushing. You could also see a lymph drainage specialist (a type of light touch massage) or even cupping therapy used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I hope that’s enough to get you started!

Tonya says:

I have very painful thighs and can feel very small “lumps” under my skin. I’m overweight by about 50 pounds and sometimes it feels like my thighs have shooting pain from nerves being pressed on. I have recently been researching Dercums disease. A very interesting disease with fatty tumors called lipoma under the skin that can be very painful!

Cherelle Lucas says:

hi I am so glad I have come across this page I have been so worried about the pain in my legs and thighs but finally looks like I may jave found an answer lol started since having my little boy nearly 4 months ago :-) think will waig till I finally get some energy back then start excersizing lol thanks guys :-)


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