Unless you’ve experienced a nasty scar firsthand, chances are, you may not be aware of the emotional distress, discomfort and even physical pain that scars can cause. Fortunately, scars go through a healing process that reduces the severity of their symptoms and their renowned “angry” appearance – but this is over a long period of time. The good news is that massage can help speed up this process, as well as break down adhesions that would otherwise permanently keep the tissue in a restricted and sub-optimal state.
What is a scar?
After injury or surgery, our body goes into overdrive to produce fibrous tissue around the wound to heal the area. Initially, this will make the wound area more noticeable (red and raised), tight and painful. However, scars do not only appear on the surface of our skin. They can be deep below the surface, affecting ligaments, muscles and tendons. Adhesions can also form as bands of scar tissue that anchor and support the wound. Adhesions can be likened to internal scar tissue and can occur anywhere.
To form scar tissue, our bodies rely on protein (collagen) fibres to build the fibrous tissue. However, the way in which this fibrous tissue is laid down is randomised instead of nicely regulated and aligned – a bit like chipboard compared to natural wood. This is why scar tissue can inhibit blood flow, lymph drainage and general movement around the wound, creating discomfort, tightness and a pulling sensation. It can also lead to aches and pains and affect the health of surrounding tissue.
How do tissues heal?
Over time, our tissues go through two healing stages: regeneration and repair. With regeneration, the damaged tissues are slowly replaced by similar normal cells. In repair mode, the lost tissue is replaced by granulation tissue which ultimately evolves into scar tissue. Most damaged organs, including the skin, use a combination of both mechanisms to heal.
All wounds produce scars, but some scars are more noticeable and have more side effects than others. Several contributing factors are at play here: skin colour or type, the age of the patient and the location of the scar.
Why does scar tissue behave differently?
Scar tissue doesn’t have the same consistency and flexibility as normal tissue. The granulation healing stage can cause the scar to contract and tighten. In small scars, this generally does not cause any problems. The difficulties occur when scars are larger. As they cover a large area of the body, when they contract they can decrease the range of movement of the area, causing considerable pain and even biomechanical dysfunction. Other complications can also occur, such as numbness, compressed nerves and postural problems. Understandably, for the sufferer this can be quite distressing and interfere with his or her quality of life.
Massage therapy techniques for scars
Fortunately, myofascial massage techniques can help by breaking down the scar tissue, making the injured tissue more flexible and releasing tension in the area. With myofascial release, the tissue is lengthened and gently realigned in a fashion more consistent with normal tissue. This allows a greater range of movement, particularly if the scar is near a joint, alleviates pressure on nerves and surrounding areas and reduces pain. For more information on myofascial massage, see our blog: Myofascial Release and Massage Therapy: Understanding the difference.
Deep tissue massage therapy is also a successful technique for helping with pain associated with scar tissue. Due to its intense nature, deep tissue massage helps break down adhesions, increases circulation and helps prevent more adhesions from forming. Deep tissue massage is particularly helpful for scars that are formed after muscle tears or strains. By restoring the range of movement in the area and preventing adhesions, massage can also help to prevent recurrences of injury in the area.
Regular massage is also highly advisable for those worried by unattractive scars on highly visible areas of the body. Massage therapy can help the tissue to settle and return to a more normal appearance, rather than a raised, reddened and angry scar that can be so distressing.
Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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