In my acupuncture practice, it is common for patients to report discomfort associated with scar tissue, especially following a surgical procedure. While the formation of scar tissue is a natural function of healing, it can also become a chronic source of pain and discomfort that can last for years.
Recently, at the 3rd Research Fascia Congress, Jean-Claude Gimberteau presented an amazing video of in vivo scar tissue. The video provided a clear visual of tissue and fascial disorganization associated with scar tissue. Viewing these powerful images, as well as coming to a deeper understanding of the process of tissue repair, have helped me to become more effective in working with scar tissue.
Typically, when I assess scar tissue, I gently palpate the area around the scar and the scar itself. I look for areas where the tissue is able to move freely or for areas where the tissue has become thickened and dense underneath the scar, or where the scar is being pulled into the body. As I attempt to mobilize the area, I ask the patient to describe where they feel sensation. Many times they report feeling pain, tension, or tugging in another part of the body, away from the scar. This is when they might experience an “aha!” moment, coming to understand that the scar may be somehow linked to another area in the body where they have been experiencing tension or pain. This demonstrates how scars can continue to alter over time to effect the internal landscape of the body, long after the scar appears to be healed.
This image is of a patient who underwent breast reduction (lollipop) surgery, twelve years ago. It is a very invasive surgery and results in large areas of scar tissue. The patient’s chief complaint was anxiety. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, stagnation in the chest can create heat-induced anxiety. I was curious to see if her scar tissue was blocking the flow of qi, blood, and lymph through the upper body. Palpation demonstrated that there was a good deal of fascial restriction along the scars with a grayish-green discoloration of the skin between both breasts (stagnation).
The image shows how I set the acupuncture needles along the scar tissue, at an angle. Then, I gently tugged on the needles, mobilizing the underlying scar tissue until the fascia begin to release. I also used glass cups to lift the underlying fascia and increase the flow of blood, lymph, and qi through the area. In the image you can see how the circulation increased as the grey-greenish area began to pink-up. The patient had a good result. Her anxiety lessened considerably and her breathing improved. She was now able to expand her diaphragm more easily upon inhalation, allowing more flow through the upper body.
Have you ever experienced residual pain around a scar, long after it had healed? Did you receive treatment for the scar? Would you consider acupuncture to help mobilize scar tissue?