Scar tissue refers to thick, fibrous tissues that take the place of healthy ones that have been damaged. Healthy tissues may be destroyed from a cut, significant injury, or surgery. Tissue damage may be internal, so scar tissue can form postsurgery or as a result of disease.
In the early stages, scar tissue isn’t always painful. This is because nerves in the area may have been destroyed along with healthy body tissues.
But over time, scar tissue may become painful as nerve endings regenerate. Scar tissue can also become painful over the course of an internal disease. The amount of pain can also vary based on the severity of the initial wound as well as its location on your body.
Curious if the pain you’re experiencing is related to scar tissue? Let’s dive a little deeper into this subject.
Sometimes scar tissue can be painless. When it comes to scar tissue on your skin, you may notice it has a thicker texture compared to the rest of your body and that’s it.
On the other hand, exterior scar tissue can be painful. Some of the symptoms of scar tissue pain include:
- inflammation (swelling)
- sensitivity (to the touch)
- reduced range of motion
- “creaky” sounds or sensations
Scar tissue you can’t see may form due to internal wounds, surgeries, or underlying diseases. You may still feel pain and stiffness at these sites, especially if the scar tissue starts affecting the surrounding joints. Such is the case with knee or spinal scar tissue, as well as scar tissue formed following surgeries of the face, or from medical procedures like hysterectomies.
In some cases, pain from scar tissue is noticeable right away. In others, the pain may come on years later. Sometimes this has to do with nerves that develop after the injury itself heals. Another possibility is that a severe burn or a deep wound can eventually affect underlying bones and joints, leading to subsequent pain at the site of the scar tissue.
For internal damage, the pain may develop as a result of the scar tissue taking place of healthy tissues, such as in the case of lung and liver diseases. As your condition progresses, you may feel pain from a lack of functioning of these body parts, along with other related symptoms.
For example, scar tissue that develops in your lungs can be a result of pulmonary fibrosis. You might experience a painful cough along with shortness of breath, achy joints, and fatigue. Fibrosis or cirrhosis of the liver may not be painful at first, but the scar tissues that accumulate may cause jaundice, fluid retention, and bruising of the skin.
Despite your level of pain, treatments are available for scar tissue and its uncomfortable symptoms and appearance. Talk to your doctor about the following approaches.
Revision or removal surgeries
Scar tissue on the skin may be corrected via cosmetic surgery techniques, such as excisions or skin grafting. These may be viable options if you have significant aesthetic concerns along with pain. This may be the case with third degree burns, severe wounds from an accident, or other injuries.
The downside to corrective surgery is that the process could lead to additional scarring, such as keloid scars. Therefore, your plastic surgeon will determine whether the new scar would be far less significant than the original scar tissue. If the answer is yes, then revision or removal techniques could bring more relief that can outweigh the risk of additional scarring.
If the scar tissue you’re wanting to treat is from a recent surgery, the Cleveland Clinic recommends waiting at least a year before considering revision surgery. This is because the initial scar tissue could go away on its own without needing additional procedures.
Scar tissue from burns, cuts, and severe acne may respond to dermabrasion or laser therapy. However, you’ll need multiple sessions over a period of several weeks or months. Topical therapies also remove the outer layer of the scar tissue, but not the entire area.
A downside of dermatologic procedures for scar tissue is that they can temporarily make the area look more noticeable. Mild pain and swelling is also possible. These symptoms go away within a few days of your procedure.
Certain areas of your skin may also respond to topical serums for scar tissue, such as those containing the antioxidant vitamin C. While serums may work well for minor scarring, significant areas of scar tissue may require more aggressive treatments from a dermatologist.
Another over-the-counter option is an antihistamine cream, especially if your scar tissue is relatively new and is extremely itchy.
Injections and injectables
Corticosteroid injections help decrease pain and inflammation. Steroid injections work best for keloid or hypertrophic scarring on the surface of your skin.
Another option is botulinum toxin (Botox) injections. These work by relaxing muscles in the area of the body of concern, and decreasing pain and discomfort. Though Botox injections can help with scar tissue pain, they won’t get rid of a scar’s appearance.
These gel or liquid-based materials are more of a preventative than a treatment. They’re essentially bandages that prevent adhesions following surgery. Such techniques are designed to prevent your skin tissues from sticking together so that you’ll experience less pain and discomfort, along with decreased development of scar tissue.
Adhesion barriers are known to help with scarring from gynecologic surgeries, such as hysterectomies and cesarean delivery. If you’re worried about painful scar tissue following a procedure, talk to your doctor about adhesion barriers.
Your doctor may also recommend compression treatment for your scar tissue. This helps to decrease the inflammation from the affected tissues of the skin while also decreasing pain.
You can find compression wraps at the drugstore. Place them around the affected area as much as you’d like throughout the day. Not only will you get some relief from the pain, but you may also see the scar tissue decrease in size over time as well.
A massage can do wonders for scar tissue pain. Your practitioner will use a series of deep tissue mobilization or myofascial release techniques to help reduce inflammation and encourage movement in the affected area.
Massages can work for any type of scar tissue pain. They may be performed by a licensed chiropractor or massage therapist. Let your provider know in advance about your scar tissue pain and speak up if you want a different amount of pressure applied to the area.
The Graston technique
In some cases, your doctor will recommend a joint treatment called the Graston technique. This helps improve your range of motion with the use of stainless-steel instruments that work to break up the scar tissue that’s causing trouble.
The Graston technique works best in cases where painful scar tissue is interfering with joint mobility.
Sometimes severe wounds and significant scarring from burns and injuries can affect the underlying muscles and joints in your body. This can subsequently restrict your range of motion and ability to complete everyday tasks. In such cases, you could benefit from physical therapy.
A physical therapist will help you work through certain exercises that can strengthen you muscles and joints so that you can be more mobile again. This is especially helpful if your scar tissue affects major areas of mobility, such as your back, abdomen, and limbs.
Stretches and exercises
Aside from structured physical therapy sessions, there are other stretches and exercises you can do on your own at home. Ask your doctor and physical therapist for a routine.
Stretching can especially come in handy in the morning when your body is typically stiffer. This can help ease pain from internal scar tissue, too.
Whether you’ve had a recent surgery, injury or burn, pain from scar tissue is a real possibility. Talk to your doctor about ways you can relieve scar tissue pain. If you suspect an underlying health condition, make an appointment right away.