First of all, congratulations on wanting to heal your injuries! So many of us continue to live in pain for years and year, wishing there was a magic cure. In reality, we know there is no magic, but every day we go without healing is another day of pain and another day longer it will take to heal.
When we look at healing a chronic or long term injury, a good rule of thumb is that it will take as long to get out of pain as it took you to get into pain. For example, if you hurt yourself 6 months ago, and just started scar tissue removal or other forms of therapy, you can estimate it will take you 6 months from your first treatment to get back to peak performance – and that is if you work with the injury EVERY DAY!
“But…but…but…I first hurt my shoulder 20 years ago in high school!” Do not get discouraged! Many people heal faster; it’s just that you need to be prepared for LONG TERM recovery and patience, and to do the work at home on yourself. That’s where we work on the emotional and spiritual side of recovery. Back to scar tissue…
What is scar tissue?
Scar Tissue develops in muscles all the time. Generally, when a muscle is pulled, stretched too far or torn, it does not replace itself with new muscle. We grow scar tissue which is made from brittle, fibrous and inferior tissue. It takes a long time for this to be absorbed back into the body and the more scar tissue, the longer it takes.
Scar tissue can develop on the surface or skin level, like a post surgical scar or general cut or scrap. It can also develop deep in our bodies on our muscles and organs. The deeper the scar tissue, the more difficult it is to work with.
Immediate response to an injury with Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation will help. But if you are past that point, what do you do?
How to get rid of scar tissue
If you wait to take care of scar tissue, it can develop into serious problems and pain, including numbness in the nerves, decreased flexibility and ultimately compensation of body mechanics and prevailing body pain. This is not the type of injury that will go away over time. You need to work with scar tissue to heal effectively.
One bodywork technique for scar tissue is called cross-fiber. The work will be uncomfortable, but should not be painful. You CAN DO THIS YOURSELF, but if you do not know the technique, it’s best to work with an experienced therapist for a few sessions first.
Start with a cream or lotion. Anything will do, but sports specific or massage creams do not absorb into the body as fast as household body lotions. If the skin starts pulling or your fingers are not gliding across the skin, add more lotion.
You always want to work across the muscle fibers. So, if a muscle like your quadriceps is injured (the long muscles in your leg that run from your hip down to your knee), you’ll want to work from right to left across the muscle. You rub the scar tissue across the muscle, deep enough to be uncomfortable, but not causing pain. You will have to decide what that feels like to you and your specific muscle. The pain will decrease over time so don’t worry too much at first that you can’t apply the pressure. And, do not start with the “no pain, no gain” mentality or you will end up with a worse injury!
You can use your fingers, knuckles, rolling ball or foam roller. Actually, even a can of soup works, anything that creates pressure; but remember you want to pinpoint the exact area, not just a general muscle pressure, so fingers, the back of a spoon or something small works best. Whatever you use, the technique is to go across the muscle and it takes time.
You will actually cause minor trauma to the muscle and tissues when you use cross fiber that promote healing, but you do not want to create so much trauma that you re-injure the area.
Use of Hot and Cold
Cold therapy makes the blood leave an area by constricting the blood vessels and reduces sensations by numbing the nerves. Heat makes blood flow more to an area by opening up the blood vessels.
Use ice or cold therapy before cross fiber so that you can work the area with less discomfort. You can work the deeper tissues when the area is numb and you will be able to reach more scar tissue. When you are finished, apply heat so that blood flows back into the area. You do not want too much blood to flow in or you will have increased swelling, so 15-20 minutes should be sufficient.
How often should I do this?
In general, work with the tissue as often as you think about the scar or injury. It is possible to overwork an area, but it is unlikely unless you are working with it for hours each day. Try it for 10 minutes every day. Or 15 minutes twice a day. Or 5 minutes every hour. Whatever works into your schedule – just try it! Again, if you are not familiar with the technique, ask an experienced therapist to work with you a few times AND show you what to do.
Sometimes it just feels better to have someone else work on you, or perhaps your scar is in an area you can not comfortably reach like your back or shoulder. Then you will need to have someone else help you but a friend or partner can do this as well. Just make sure you communicate how much pressure to use and try to be nice to your helper – they are learning along with you!
Be patient! Our organic physical bodies can take a while to heal, but if we treat ourselves right, our bodies are amazing organisms that have the resources to get us back to a working condition. If you insist on continuing training or parachuting or housecleaning during recovery, your body will take longer to heal.
Again, not magic! But adding a stretching or positional release program into your daily routing will definitely help your body remember it’s natural resting position and speed recovery.
- Start with ice.
- Cross fiber – work across the muscle fibers (look up the muscle on the internet if you don’t know what it looks like)
- Finish with heat.
- Add a stretching or positional release program.
- Be patient and kind. Heal.