Scars develop on the skin’s surface as the result of burns, deep lacerations or a variety of other injuries that penetrate or interrupt the skin’s integrity. Possessing an amazing capacity to heal and regenerate, the skin forms a scab over a wound within three to four days following an injury. By day ten the scab typically shrinks and sloughs off as the body focuses on laying down collagen fibers to strengthen the former site of injury. The damaged tissue can be in recovery between three months to over a year before it returns to full strength. Additionally, some diseases or skin disorders (such as acne) may also result in scar tissue formation. While scars can result from a variety of traumatic events to the skin, they share some common characteristics. As a general rule, the earlier and more consistently scar tissue is exercised, massaged and warmed, the less possibility of developing any long-term concerns.
While the degree of scar formation varies from person to person, there are some distinguishing characteristics:
- Becomes hard and non-pliable
- Bands of fibers on or below the surface
- Skin tightens or shortens. When crossing a joint, this contracture may limit range of motion, comprise function or cause deformity.
- Becomes dry and reopens to form a wound if not managed properly. This is especially true for skin grafts, which do not produce oil or sweat.
While the body’s formation of scar tissue is an awesome demonstration of self-preservation, the resulting fibrous mass can set the stage for problems down the road. Composed primarily of collagen, scar tissue’s fibrosity prohibits adequate circulation. In addition to the physical limitations of collagenous tissue, the lack of blood flow and lymph drainage occurring in scar tissue makes it vulnerable to dysfunction. The resulting abnormal stress on a scar’s surrounding structures may include:
- Nerve impingement
- Limited range of motion and flexibility
- Postural misalignment
- Muscle atrophy
- Tissue hypoxia
- An increase in potential for future injury
In fact, some professionals believe that scar tissue is the root of a majority of physical imbalances. Body-workers addressing scar tissue early in its development can help minimize any of the preceding secondary scar tissue problems.
A scar’s healing progression consists of two phases, immature and mature.
- Immature – Immediately after a wound heals, the scar is immature. During this period it may be painful, itchy or sensitive as nerve endings within the tissue heal. While it is typically red in appearance, most scars fade to normal flesh color with maturation. Exercise, massage and heat application will have the greatest positive effect on an immature scar.
- Mature – Depending on the size and depth of the wound, scar tissue will cease production 3 to 18 months following wound healing. When scar tissue is no longer produced, the scar is considered mature. While techniques to reduce scar tissue in a mature scar are effective, a more disciplined and vigorous approach is necessary.
Six Techniques for Scar Tissue Massage
As soon as the wound is knitted, massage therapy can be performed. During the initial immature stages of wound recovery, it is imperative that a gentle approach be taken. The following six techniques are well-known ways body workers can improve scar tissue:
- Manual Lymph Drainage optimizes lymphatic circulation and drainage around the injured area. Gentle, circular, draining motions within the scar itself or a firm stretch to the skin above and below the scar, first in a straight line and then in a circular motion, are two drainage techniques. Placing the fingers above the scar, then making gentle circular pumping motions on the scar also helps drain congested lymph fluid. As the massage therapist gently works down the scar, the tissue will feel softer. Drainage techniques should not hurt or make the scar redden.
- Myofascial Release helps ease constriction of the affected tissue. To stretch the skin next to the scar, place two or three fingers at the beginning of the scar and stretch the skin above the scar in a parallel direction. Then move the fingers a quarter of an inch further along the scar and repeat the stretch of the adjacent tissue, working your way along the scar. An alternative method is to follow the same pattern of finger movements using a circular motion instead of straight stretches. Work your way along the scar in a clockwise and counterclockwise fashion.
- Deep Transverse Friction can prevent adhesion formation and rupture unwanted adhesion’s. Applied directly to the lesion and transverse to the direction of the fibers, this deep tissue massage technique can yield desirable results in a mature or immature scar. Never progress beyond a client’s comfort level.
- Lubrication of the scar helps soften and increase its pliability. Mediums such as lotion, castor oil, vitamin E oil or other oil can prevent the scar from drying out and re-opening.
- Stretching aids in increasing range of motion. This is most important when approaching scars that cross over a joint. Scar tissue will lengthen after being stretched, especially if the stretch is sustained for several seconds and is combined with massage.
- Heat and Ice Application helps the pliability and flexibility of the scar. Common tools used to apply heat are paraffin wax, moist heat packs or ultrasound. Ice packs work well also.
Info on Massaging Scars and how to Help Heal Them
Scar tissue occurs when collagen fibers form over an injury during the healing process. Sometimes these fibers grow in all directions, causing scars to appear darker and more pronounced, according to Massage Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. Massage therapy is just one alternative to more complex procedures to reduce scar appearance and formation. By increasing blood circulation, massage therapists say massage speeds the healing process and prevents the scar from re-opening by remaining pliable.
Rub the scar in a circular motion to help promote fluid drainage. This is known as lymph drainage technique and is used to minimize swelling of scar tissue. Through this form of scar massage, your lymph nodes are prompted to drain excess fluid that commonly surrounds scar tissue during the healing process.
Stretch the surrounding skin outward — gently rub the scar with your thumbs using a circular motion. This helps keep your scar flexible and prevents it from restricting your movement, especially if the scar is located on or near a joint.
Apply pressure to your scar with your finger or thumb and rub in one direction. You might also use the palm of your hand for larger scars. This breaks up excess collagen and adhesion’s, according to website Body of Health.
Apply lotions or massage oils to your scar when you massage it to prevent the skin from drying out. When a scar is overly dry, it can break open and cause new sores to form. Massage oils and lotions come in varying scents and herbal mixtures.
Other Good Resources
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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