Understanding Scar Tissue: What It Is + How To Care For It
So you’ve had surgery, your scars have healed and you’re back to your pre-surgery life. Along the way, did anyone tell you about the impact scars — no matter how big or small — can have on your body? Do you know how important it is to "release" scar tissue"? Read on for the answer to all of your scar tissue questions.
What is scar tissue?
Scars are adhesions on tissue in the body that form after trauma and can affect skin, muscles, ligaments and tendons. As part of the body's repair process, new protein (collagen) fibers replace the injured tissue and a scar is formed. Unlike the original tissue, however, the new fibers align themselves in a random, mismatched formation (much like a new game of pick-up-sticks instead of the original interlocked line of fibers), leading to inferior functionality and structure.
This results in a lower functional quality to the normal fiber alignment, reduced flexibility and affects the sensory feedback in that area. Scars also affect our fascia, the body's connective tissue that surrounds all of our muscles, organs and nerves. These collagen fibers are designed in a web-like fashion and can withstand tension from all directions to move smoothly with muscles as they contracts and relax. It's only when scar tissue occurs that this smooth movement is disrupted.
What's the difference between functional and dysfunctional fascia?
Try this at home to get a feel for what the difference between functional and dysfunctional fascia feels like.
Clasp one hand in the other so your fingers are linked (Figure 1). Keeping your fingers straight, gently pull your hands apart without letting the fingers part (Figure 2). Then push them together again. Imagine your fingers are healthy fascia moving with the muscles as you contract and relax them.
Now, clasp your hands together again, this time put your fingers at an angle and repeat the process (Figure 3 & 4). Did the movement feel jerky and less controlled? Did you feel more resistance? If you did it correctly, your answers should be "yes." This is a simplified example of what happens to your fascia when disrupted by scar tissue — it heals and binds in a mismatched way, reducing flexibility and creating tension as a result.
One of many roles fascia plays is transmitting force through the body, so if there's an interruption in this system because of scar tissue, the force will impact a single spot along the kinetic chain instead of being dissipated through a larger area. Over time, the fascia has a tendency to bind around the site of scarring and create a pull of tension towards the scar tissue. This can reduce flexibility in the area and cause dysfunctional movement as a result.
What can you do if you have scar tissue?
Scar tissue needs to be broken down in order for it to realign more functionally and enable flexibility in the area. In order to release scars yourself, you want to massage towards the heart and spend at least five minutes using a moderate pressure on both sides of the scar, as well as over it. Try stretching the skin around it in all directions, too. The best time to release scars is after a hot bath when blood flow is increased and skin is softer.
What if my scar tissue is from an old injury?
It's never too late to work on your scars, no matter how many years have gone by since the trauma. You can still improve flexibility around the scar tissue and have a positive impact on your movement and wellbeing. Be aware that many scars can also hold emotions from our pas, so don't be surprised if while working on releasing your scar tissue, you feel an emotional release as well.
If you’d rather see a therapist about your scars, I’d suggest seeking out an experienced manual therapist in your area who takes scars seriously.