While lipedema and cellulite both affect the appearance of the body, they are completely different conditions.
TL;DR: Lipedema is a medical condition that affects fat cells. It causes a disproportionate accumulation of fat in the legs and arms, swelling, tenderness, and pain. Diet and exercise do very little to impact lipedema. There is no cure for lipedema, but there are treatments to help manage symptoms.
Cellulite is a common condition that affects the skin’s appearance, characterized by dimpled or lumpy skin. It is not a medical condition. The appearance of cellulite can be reduced with lifestyle changes.
What is Lipedema?
Lipedema is a chronic and progressive disorder that affects the adipose tissue or fat cells. It primarily affects women, with an estimated 11% of women worldwide experiencing lipedema. Traditionally, lipedema has been characterized by abnormal collection of fat in the legs. Recent studies show that lipedema can also present in the arms in addition to the legs or just the arms, sometimes even just around the hips. The location of the fat helps us determine the type of lipedema. For example, if the fat is just in the upper legs (think thighs), it’s likely Type II. If the fat is in the whole leg, from hips to ankles, it’s likely Type III. Type III is most commonly diagnosed as lipedema.
The fat feels different from normal fat. The limbs will be tender to the touch. Wearing jeans or other restrictive clothing often feels painful. There is often unexplained bruising. The most common complaint we hear from our lipedema clients is the “tight, heavy feeling” they live with.
Symptoms of Lipedema:
- Disproportionate accumulation of fat cells, usually in the legs but can also be in the hips and arms.
- Swelling and tenderness in the affected areas.
- Pain and discomfort in the affected limb.
- Easy bruising in the affected areas.
- Skin hypersensitivity to touch or pressure.
- Stiffness and reduced mobility.
Causes of Lipedema:
There is not a known cause of lipedema. Though recent studies believe genetics and hormones play a role. Lipedema is often first noticed during puberty. At that time, it is often misdiagnosed as obesity. For some women, pregnancy or menopause can be the trigger for the fat accumulation to exponentially increase.
Treatment of Lipedema:
While ketogenic diets may have some effect on fat, no amount of exercise or diet resolves lipedema fat. There is no cure for lipedema. There are some treatments available to manage the symptoms. Some of these treatments include:
- Compression therapy: Wearing compression garments, such as stockings or sleeves, can help reduce swelling and discomfort in the affected areas. There is some trial and error for finding the right compression to fit your body and your lifestyle. There are also different styles of compression from ready made garments to compression wraps to custom garments. Working with a professional helps you find the right size and fit to decrease compilations from an ill-fitting garment. Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): This is a specialized massage technique that helps to stimulate lymphatic flow and reduce swelling.
- Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD): A specific type of manual therapy that increases lymph flow. With lipedema, the fat cells can impede the lymphatic flow and can cause swelling. This swelling can lead to further complications, including lymphedema. MLD is best when paired with compression. MLD is also a large part of lipedema liposuction recovery.
- Liposuction: Liposuction may be recommended to remove the excess fat cells from the affected areas. This is often done through multiple procedures. The recovery can be several months of intensive work, including compression and regular Manual Lymphatic Drainage. When looking for a qualified surgeon, it’s important to ask if they have worked with lipedema patients. An acute knowledge of the lymphatic system is crucial to a successful outcome.
To learn more about lipedema, visit The Lipedema Project. You can find research, events, ebooks, and medical professionals. The Supine Studio is listed as a professional with Bailey B. R. Maddox being our in-house Certified Lymedema Therapist who is trained in compression and MLD for lipedema.
What is Cellulite?
Cellulite is a common condition where fat cells push against the connective tissues affecting the skin’s appearance. Cellulite is characterized by the appearance of dimpled or lumpy skin, especially in the thighs, buttocks, and hips. Cellulite is not a medical condition and does not cause physical pain or discomfort, but it can affect one’s self-esteem.
Symptoms of Cellulite:
- Dimpled or lumpy skin in the thighs, buttocks, and hips.
- Orange-peel or cottage cheese appearance of the skin.
- Mild skin discoloration.
Causes of Cellulite:
The exact cause of cellulite is unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal imbalances, especially estrogen, can contribute to the development of cellulite.
- Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing cellulite.
- Lifestyle factors: Sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and smoking can contribute to the development of cellulite.
Treatment of Cellulite:
There are several treatments available to improve the appearance of cellulite. Some of these treatments include:
- Topical creams: There are several creams and lotions available that claim to reduce the appearance of cellulite.
- Massage: Massaging the affected areas can help improve blood flow and reduce the appearance of cellulite. Typically these massages are called “Body Sculpting” and utilize techniques such as: wood therapy, cupping therapy, Lypossage, and vibration.
- Low-level laser therapy: This is a non-invasive treatment that uses low-level lasers to reduce cellulite.