In my line of work, I ask a lot of questions about my patients and their past history of accident, injury and surgery. A lot of people tend to skip over these things because they don’t think they’re important. And even when they know it’s important, sometimes they forget about the big things that have happened in their life. For example, years ago I had a patient who stated they’d never had any surgeries. Yet when they lifted up the back of their shirt, there was a huge scar running down the one side of their back. When I asked about it, they laughed and said they had forgot to mention they had a kidney removed.
I sometimes wonder how we forget about these types of events in our life but the fact is: we all forget. The point, though, is whether or not we remember surgeries, accidents, or injuries, the scars they create can cause long term problems.
Scar tissue is the body’s natural way of healing and supporting the body. The scar tissue creates stability in the body as a way of healing. In the short term this is great! In the long term, however, scar tissue can be responsible for localized and referred pain, muscle and posture imbalance, as well as a whole host of other problems depending on the location of the scar.
I always describe scars as a snag in a sweater. Once the snag happens, it starts to pull the surrounding fabric into it, creating tension on the rest of the fabric. This is exactly what scar tissue does in the body. Now, if you have something like a paper cut on your finger, this isn’t a big deal. But if you’ve had your appendix removed, a C-section, heart surgery, a mastectomy or breast augmentation, or a kidney removed, it’s a much bigger deal because these are major surgeries and the scar tissue runs extremely deep. It’s actually not uncommon for women to have low back pain, digestive problems, menstrual changes, and problems with feeling like they’re being pulled forward while standing, within 5 years of having a C-section. Since the uterus is so closely linked to these areas of the body through fascia, muscle tissue, and the nervous system, the scar tissue created places tension into all of these systems. And these are just the complaints from those who’ve had C-sections that have gone smoothly. In emergency situations, or where the scars have been infected and not healed properly, the list of complaints post-C-section are much longer.
You may then ask what it is that can be done for such cases. After all, everyone has, or eventually will, end up with scar tissue from something. Working directly with the scar tissue to soften it up and release the adhesions is key. You can work on this at home by rubbing castor oil directly onto the scar and placing a heat pack over the area in order to absorb the oil. The heat allows the castor oil to penetrate the tissues and since castor oil is an irritant, it can help break down the adhesions as it’s absorbed into the body. Be aware if you’re doing this over your abdomen that castor oil is known to have a laxative effect. And if you’re pregnant, you may want to hold off on this idea since it has also been known to induce labour.
You can also work directly on the scar tissue yourself by placing your fingertips over the scar and placing slight tension along the length of the scar, almost like you’re pulling it apart, paying attention to the direction the scar likes to move versus where it doesn’t want to move. This may cause a slight tingling or burning sensation as the adhesions release but this is normal. However, if you experience extreme pain you’re either using too much force, the scar hasn’t had enough time to heal properly, or there is something else happening. It’s key to remember the area must be completely healed from whatever caused the scar before working directly on the tissue. Otherwise you risk opening up the area, possible infection, and poor healing in general. And if waiting until it’s completely healed and lessening the force you’re using doesn’t decrease the pain you’re experiencing, it’s worth a trip to the doctor to make sure there isn’t something else happening in the area, such as an infection.
If you prefer to not work on scar tissue yourself and want a professional to take a look, an Osteopathic Practitioner will take a similar approach by working directly on the scar tissue itself. Due to the nature of this manual therapy, it allows for treatment on a much deeper level than what can be reached by treating one’s self, due to more developed palpation skills and the angles that can be reached when someone else is treating this tissue. This type of treatment is especially important for the deeper scars seen in appendectomies, C-sections, any type of laparoscopic surgery such as a gallbladder removal, and even mastectomies and breast augmentations, both of which have been known to cause shoulder and breathing problems due to restriction of the fascia and muscles from the scar tissue created by these surgeries.
Now that you have more information about the effects of scar tissue on the body and what you can do to help you and your loved ones, you’ll never look at scars the same way. You’ll still have a story to tell as to how you earned that scar but why suffer the consequences of it if you don’t have to?
By Candace Kakowchyk, D.O.M.P., D.Sc.O.