Did you know that massage therapy can help with issues caused by scar tissue?
First, a little about scar tissue. Scar tissue is comprised of thick, fibrous tissues formed by cells and collagen.
It develops at injury sites to replace damaged tissue. This commonly occurs after the body undergoes trauma, or when an incision is made in the skin in areas where muscles and tissues were cut and repaired.
In other words, scar tissue is the body's natural Band-Aid!
Its purpose is to help the healing process, however it's generally less flexible and elastic than muscle tissue as a result. This can limit range of motion and cause musculoskeletal imbalances if unaddressed. (Collagen fibers are 5-10x stronger than steel!)
Healthy scar tissue has adequate blood flow, permits a wide range of motion, and should not feel numb, tingly, or painful. As scar tissue begins to harden during the first year of the reformation process, massage can help it to reform and heal properly with regular sessions.
A Licensed Massage Therapist might use techniques like Myofascial release and cross-friction massage. If you choose self-massage, or incorporate it in between sessions, use massage oil or Vitamin E, which helps to build collagen. Use the pad of your finger or thumb and firmly massage the area in a circular, clockwise motion. Then, go in a counter-clockwise direction to help drain excess fluid. Finally, slide your fingers up and down the scar, applying pressure.
Is scar tissue permanent?
Yes, but the tissue can shrink with proper care. After scars are initially formed and healed (generally 6-8 weeks), the injured tissue begins to repair during the remodeling process (1-2 years).
How can massage help scar tissue?
Deep tissue and sports massages can break down scar tissue after it's fully healed to reduce pain, increase range of motion, and possibly reduce the appearance.
Using techniques like cross-friction massage can help collagen fibers align properly. Myofascial release can massage the surrounding muscles and underlying tissues.
How often should I get a massage?
Treatments can begin after physician clearance, typically after 2 months. The entire remodeling process can take 12-18 months, and massage can be beneficial during this time.
What if my scar tissue is old?
Massage can help if the tissue is less than 2 years old, before reaching full maturation.
Can stretching help?
Following recovery, long duration and low load stretching can facilitate the remodeling process. Stretching is not recommended immediately following surgery.
What does science say?
A 2020 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concluded that massage can reduce scar thickness, as well as reduce pain in burn scars (Deflorin et al., 2020). Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) and high-intensity light therapy were also helpful for pain management and scar reduction.
When getting a massage focused on scar tissue remodeling (this can be incorporated into a regular session), let your therapist know how far along you are in the healing process.
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