Scar massage is a common method used to help remodel scar tissue that has developed in injured tissue. It is a treatment used in physical therapy after surgery, fracture, or soft tissue injury like sprains and strains. Scar massage is also known as scar mobilization.
What is Scar Tissue?
There are many instances in the body where scar tissue will develop. After surgery, scar tissue will develop where the surgical incision is in the skin. If muscles and tendons were cut or repaired, scar tissue will develop there. After injury like a hamstring tear or rotator cuff tear, scar tissue will develop in the muscle as it heals. Bony scar tissue, called a callus, will form on bone after a fracture. Scar tissue is the body’s normal method for healing body parts that are injured.
Is Scar Tissue Permanent?
Scar tissue is not a permanent fixture in the body. After scar tissue forms and healing has taken place, the scar needs to be remodeled so that it can tolerate the stress and forces that the body may encounter throughout each day. The remodeling process is essential to ensure that normal range of motion, strength, and mobility are restored to the injured tissue.
Scar Management Techniques
If you have developed scar tissue after injury or surgery, your physical therapist may perform scar massage on the injured tissue in order to help with the remodeling process. He or she may also instruct you or a family member in the proper scar massage technique.
Be sure to check with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that proper healing has taken place and that scar tissue massage is appropriate. Massaging a scar that is not fully healed can cause damage to the developing scar tissue and this can delay healing. In general, the scar must be fully closed and no scabbing present to begin scar massage. Again, your doctor and physical therapist should assess your scar before beginning scar massage.
Usually a small amount of lubrication is used during scar massage. This can be baby oil, lotion, or vitamin E oil. This is used to keep the scar and skin pliable and soft.
Cross Friction Massage
One effective method of scar massage is called cross friction or transverse friction massage. This involves using one or two fingers to massage your scar in a direction that is perpendicular to the line of the scar. This technique helps to remodel the scar and ensures that the collagen fibers of the scar are aligned properly. Cross friction massage is commonly used in the treatment of tendonitis and muscle strains or ligament sprains. The technique is performed for five to ten minutes. If instructed to do so, you may be able to perform scar massage on yourself two to three times per day.
Myofascial release (MFR) is often used to manage scar tissue and the adhesions that may accompany scar tissue. The technique involves using the hands to massage the skin and underlying tissues around the scar. Motions are slow and the amount of force used is usually light.
Another common method to help remodel scar tissue is stretching and flexibility exercises. This can help elongate the injured tissues and improve their overall mobility. If you have had an injury or surgery, your physical therapist is likely to incorporate both scar massage and stretching into your rehabilitation program.
Scar Management After Fracture
The scar tissue in bone is called callus and is present for 4-12 weeks after a fracture. If you have broken a bone and have started physical therapy, your therapist may massage the overlying tissue near the callus to help restore normal mobility. If you have had surgery to repair the broken bone, scar massage over your incision may be performed.
Another way to improve callus formation in bone is by performing weight-bearing exercise. Bone grows in response to the stress that is placed upon it (Wolff’s law) and your physical therapist can choose the right exercises for you to perform to help improve the overall strength of your bone after fracture. Be sure to work with your doctor and physical therapist to ensure that your fracture is healed enough to begin exercise.
Scar tissue grows in the body as a normal response to injury. This injury may be caused by repetitive strain, fracture, or surgery. Management of scar tissue through scar massage, stretching, and exercise is essential to ensure proper remodeling of the scar takes place and normal mobility and function are restored.
Hertling, D. (2006). Management of common musculoskeletal disorders. (4th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Kisner, C., & Colby, L. A. (1996). Therapeutic exercise: Foundations and techniques. (3 ed.). Philadelphia: FA Davis.