The problem with scar tissue is that it’s not regular tissue at all. Scar tissue is your body’s protective response to an injury. Following the injury, whether it’s a sprain, strain, or external cut/abrasion, there is a period of inflammation that aids the healing process, but after a few weeks (two, to be exact*), scar tissue formation begins.
What makes a scar? Scar tissue is connective tissue with an excess amount of collagen. Collagen is present all throughout your body, and gives your tissues extra strength (great post-injury), but can limit movement when there is too much, as is the case with a scar.
Imagine collagen like a piece of denim sewn into a sheet of spandex. Spandex is super stretchy in every direction and typically returns to it’s original shape, much like your fascia. Denim, on the other hand, can be over stretched and lose its shape, and is considerably more stiff than spandex.
A scar is similar to having a piece of denim right in the middle of your elastic spandex.
While the denim provides protection for the injured area, the seam where the denim and spandex meet can become the weakest link. As the spandex and denim continue to pull on each other, and the seam between the two fabrics weakens, your body will lay down more denim (collagen) to expand the coverage of the security blanket.
Scars become a vacuum in your body – drawing other areas towards it as they continue to stiffen and brace themselves. If you’ve ever had abdominal surgery, you know this to be true – having a stiff scar in the abdominal wall can be at the root of why your hip flexors always feel tight or you have back pain.
What can you do? Well, you can’t completely remove the denim/scar – once it’s present, it is a bandaid that will always be there, but you can do something very simple that will help improve its flexibility.
When you massage and move scar tissue, the layers of collagen and fascia become more well hydrated and organized, which allows the scar to then move with the surrounding tissue, rather than be a stuck and stiff piece of denim.
Because your body is constantly remodeling based on how you move (or don’t move it), you can still do work to improve the elasticity of a scar, regardless of if it is 2 weeks or 20 years old. It will probably take a lot longer to soften a 10 year old scar than a 10 week old scar, but improvement can still be made.
If your scar is fairly new, be sure to the edges are fully healed and speak to your healthcare professional before beginning scar massage. If your scar is fully healed, try pinching and twisting it. The tissue may be hypersensitive at first, but as you continue to work with it, you’ll be able to feel the stiffness lessening through all the layers.
Another way to help scar tissue heal is to use therapy ball massage. Therapy balls that are designed for the body (instead of tennis balls), have amazing grip that can help stimulate the connective tissues from the surface all the way down to the muscles.
Use these videos to help you get started with therapy ball self massage for muscle tension relief and scar tissue healing!
Biel, Andrew. Trail Guide to Movement: Building the Body in Motion. Boulder, CO: of Discovery, 2015. Print.
Huard, Johnny, Yong Li, and Freddie H Fu. “Muscle injuries and repair: current trends in research.” The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery 84.5 (2002): 822-832.
Lindsay, Mark, and Chad Robertson. Fascia: clinical applications for health and human performance. Delmar Pub, 2008.
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