by Bill Getz
Many people who have undergone a surgical procedure are left with some pain or even loss in their range of motion. There are many factors which could be creating these sensations and one of those is the scar tissue formation that has developed at deeper levels in the body. Take, for instance, any surgery on the neck or lower back that deals with opening things up to the level of reaching the spine. In such instances, the work performed by the surgeon is necessary and complete, yet it can leave behind an amount of scar tissue that develops in the healing process that might become problematic months following recovery and rehab programs.
Scar tissue formation caused by neck and back surgery can be extremely painful, limit mobility and flexibility and greatly diminish quality of life. Extensive scar tissue production is typically associated with the long incisions and other tissue damage caused by traditional open spine surgery. The deeper, hidden scarring around muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments may generate significant symptoms. Keep in mind that as scars mature, they contract.
Scar tissue loves to do its job in an overstated sense. The body does not generally lay down scar tissue (collagen fibers) in the exact proportion needed to adequately and fully heal an area that has been disrupted by a surgical procedure that involves deeper tissue levels in our bodies. Instead, the body likes to overproduce the amount necessary, and it also does not direct how those fibers arrange themselves to produce an effective and functional scar.
So think of the resultant scar looking more like a bubble gum patch. No real direction to its mass and often distributed unevenly. If you have a large scar on your skin, take a close look at the multiple directions of the new layers. If you don’t have any to compare, just do a Google image search on scars.
Now, as stated earlier, these may be unsightly on the skin level, but create no problem with movement restriction or pain in doing so. The problem can arise, however, at the layers that have healed between the underside of the skin and the deepest penetration of the scalpel. A surgeon may have to cut through three or four muscle layers (and the corresponding fascia) to reach the offending part in need of repair.
A few therapies like stretching or swimming may provide a benefit in helping to eliminate some of this build up. Another therapy which may be even greater benefit is in receiving massage therapy for the offended area. Massage may help to break up the adhesions and fibrosities that are not functional and causing restriction in the surgically repaired areas. Not all scarring fibers lay themselves down in the most functional line and, as one can imagine, these new fibers will never resemble the original structure in the area.
There is a certain level of “whispiness” to these ill-aligned fibers which massage can help to reduce, while leaving the functionally strong, in-line fibers intact.
Proper timing on intervention is important (and maybe even paramount) to affecting a better result from getting this type of work done. The sooner a massage therapist can begin to work on this issue, the less they must deal with chronically thicker and tougher scars. Seek out therapists who have had continuing education and experience with this type of work.
It is one therapy that may prove to be a non-invasive technique that is cost effective and have fewer side effects when compared to taking drugs to cover of the symptom of pain.
Bill Getz is a licensed massage therapist and instructor at Potomac Massage Training Institute, with more than 20 years of experience working in the field of soft tissue therapy. He specializes in orthopedic massage/evaluation, neuromuscular therapy and myofascial release. For more information, visit pmti.org.