Scars and Soft Tissue

Published on: 8/21/2014

How scar tissue changes our function, and how it can be improved.

Scar tissue forms after surgery and/or injury, and is a natural part of healing. It does not, however, have the same flexibility and functionality as the original tissue it is replacing. I like to describe scar tissue as 'sticky' – it's supposed to be! It's meant to hold the two sides of an injured area together and to create a strong bond between them, so scar tissue is very fibrous. Problems can arise, though, when that 'sticky' scar tissue adheres to other nearby structures (muscles, ligaments, or organs). This can limit movement in an area, and can contribute to dysfunction in the internal organs (i.e. digestive issues or incontinence after an abdominal surgery).

Just because we have scar tissue, though, doesn't mean that it can't be changed or improved. Myofascial release and other forms of manual therapy can release these restrictions and help the scar tissue become more flexible and more ‘organized’. By mobilizing the tissue, the therapist begins to separate those sticky layers, realigning the fibers within the scar so that they are less likely to reattach to other structures.

As an example of this, a client of mine had a knee replacement surgery several years ago. After her scar was fully healed (usually six to eight weeks), I began to work directly with the fibrous tissue and taught her self-care techniques to use at home. Regular treatment and self-treatment helped reduce the size of the scar and made significant improvements to her range of motion throughout her healing process.

Although it is optimal to work with a scar shortly after it forms, treatment can still be beneficial later on. Even now, years after her knee surgery, my client continues to notice improvements in the scar when we work on it during a session. It's never too late to start releasing restrictions and regaining function!