As part of my ongoing mission to dispel myths around the subject of Physiotherapy today we look at scar tissue. In the last few years we’ve seen a large increase in the number of clients coming to us having been told that their pain is due to scar tissue. Then when they leave pain free they, and we, wonder if scar tissue had anything to do with the pain?
What Is Scar Tissue?
Scar tissue is the physiological “stuff” that the body uses to heal itself. It is used all over the body from muscles to skin, although interestingly not nerves – the body can rebuild nerves, it just takes a long time! This scar tissue is different to the tissue that it is replacing. We don’t replace like for like. Scar tissue is generally more fibrous and less elastic – for the body geeks among us, it contains a higher proportion of collagen.
Where Does It Come From?
Scar tissue is formed as part of the healing process and so comes from the swelling in the immediate phase after an injury or operation. Swelling is the white blood cell of our blood and contains the elements that lay down scar tissue to help us repair. It’s a really clever system that’s taken, quite literally, millions of years to evolve. (Apologies to any creationist readers!)
Can Scar Tissue Cause Pain?
As previously mentioned we see an increasing number of people who have been told or believe that the pain they feel is caused by scar tissue. Scar tissue is produced in different amounts from person to person and there are cases where scar tissue is a factor in people’s pain – from our experience scar tissue usually has little to do with pain. Either that or we can remove it with our magic hands! It would also suggest that millions of years of evolution has been a waste of time if the way we heal ourselves causes pain.
So whilst it may be a factor in your pain it is unlikely to be the sole cause of the problem and is therefore fixable. Good to hear hey? But how do we go about doing such a thing? First we need to understand what else can cause our pain to understand how it can be sorted. We talk in more detail about this subject in our article What Is Pain?.
What Is Causing My Pain?
Now that’s the big question. Your brain is the answer. Your brain is where pain is registered. However, the pain you feel is what we call a multi input system. In English that means there are lots of different things that affect the pain that you feel; Hormones, emotions, stress levels and a major factor are your beliefs. If you’re interested in reading more about this check our friends at NOI.
So if you’ve been told that your scar tissue is causing your pain and been told there is nothing that can be done about it that your brain will continue to make you feel pain is the same area. If someone who you trust and believe comes along and tells you that it’s not scar tissue and you can be helped then the pain potentially could diminish immediately.
We have seen cases like this in the clinic where we discuss and dispel people’s fears and beliefs about their pain and immediately when we re-test their symptoms have been reduced, just by talking. If only it was that easy all of the time I could have many more cups of herbal tea during the working day!
More realistically it goes like this:
Therapist: So you’re pain isn’t due to scar tissue and we can change this by doing x, y and z.
Client: Well it sounds plausible but I’m still not convinced
Therapist: Well ok let me start with some treatment and show you how it works
Client: Wow that’s amazing, how did you do that?
The more times a day it happens like this the happier we are as therapists! That’s what all the hours of hard work are for.
Is It More Mind Than Body Then?
So that’s an impossible question I’ve asked myself! We always believe that there is a mechanical (i.e. something not right with the local tissues) problem but the amount that you feel this is determined by the other factors mentioned above.
However, the brain is so powerful in this process it is possible to feel pain without any “issues in the tissues” as we say. Flipping this around, if you’ve just sprained your ankle, there’s not many other factors going on there – it just hurts because you’ve done something you shouldn’t have.
But even in these circumstances different people seem to feel different amounts of pain. Take for example a young or old nervous individual and how they would react to an ankle sprain compared with an experienced sports person who’s done it before and is not “that bothered” by the pain and play’s on with it – these people are almost inevitably rugby players or American footballers! The story of the American footballer playing with a broken ankle is one of my favourites… for another day.
What Can I Do To Get Rid Of My Pain?
Come and see us of course! Have I said that before? Of course I’m biased but if you’ve been in pain for a long time sitting reading this probably won’t change much. Unless I managed to change your belief about scar tissue! The trick is to take action. What can you do about your pain that you haven’t already tried?
It could be giving us a call to see how we can help. It could be, god forbid, giving a clinic that isn’t us a ring (we don’t encourage such things!). Or it could be making a change to your attitude, approach or as we like to do change your movement patterns.
Whether you believe what I said about scar tissue or not, if we can change the amount of pain you feel you’re more likely to believe us right? It’s normally more straight forward than you would dare to believe.
So if you’ve got pain that you believe is caused by scar tissue. Or an injury you’ve been told there’s little or no hope then it may be time to think again. Amazing things can happen when you re-align the body and there is no reason why you should be any different.
If we can’t help you with our various approaches and techniques then we’ll be happy to point you in the direction of someone else with a different approach. There’s always hope with all injuries, no matter how major or minor, no matter how new or how old. Just don’t give up!