Young boys love to brag about their scars. “Here’s where I got hit by a baseball,” they’ll say, showing you a dark line about the eyebrow. “I got this in my bike wreck,” referring to the long scar down the shin. Scars can be badges of honor, evidence of battles fought and won, of adventures taken and conquered.
Cancer scars can have a similar “I’ve-been-there-and-survived” type quality, but they can also be tight, painful, and embarrassing. At their worst, lumps following breast surgery that feel like scar tissue can sometimes be new tumors.
Scar tissue is the body’s natural reaction to healing damaged areas. It’s like a latticework laid down over the injured area-which can be anywhere on or in the body-through which new connective tissues are weaved. (Think of a scab over a wound on your arm.) However, these tissues are usually denser and thicker than surrounding tissues, so they are more limited in movement, circulation, and sensation.
Though scars on the skin usually pale and fade without further irritation, larger scars from surgery- particularly from mastectomy or other significant surgeries-can create limitations in movement, and may become so stiff that they cause pressure or pain. “After mastectomy surgery,” writes Nancy J. Roberge, PT, DPT, M.Ed., “you may experience tightness emanating from your surgical site. This is caused by scar tissue, which is the body’s way of healing from surgery. The result can be very dense tissue under your incision, which is painful and which can restrict your arm’s range of motion.” She suggests physical therapy to improve flexibility, movement, and comfort.
What else can you do about thick, uncomfortable scar tissue? Vitamin E, cocoa butter, and other moisturizing creams applied to the area every day can help soften the tissue. Laura Kupperman, breast-cancer survivor and Cinco Vidas expert, recommends yoga to help restore movement and posture. Massage can also help loosen tightness. “To regain skin elasticity and to help your stretching,” says survivor Anstiss Morrill, “you will want to massage your scar tissue frequently. Ask your surgeon or physical therapist where you can make a gentle start.”
Other options for treating scar tissue include:
- Surgical treatments-for serious, stubborn scars, surgical options are available that can reduce (but not completely remove) the scar
- Dermabrasion and chemical peels-these procedures remove the top layer of skin, allowing new skin to grow and reducing scar tissue
- Needling-in this process, the affected area is “needled” to allow formation of collagen, which helps remove scar tissue
- Silicone-based scar sheets-worn for at least 8 weeks, 12 hours a day, have been helpful for reducing some scars
Though all these may be effective, you may want to try natural remedies first, to see if you can reduce scar tissue without the side effects of other treatments. Home remedies include lemon juice (applied to the scar), sandalwood paste (applied on the scar and left overnight), fenugreek seeds (washed on the scar once a week), and oil massage (with lavender, olive, cod-liver, coconut, and vitamin E oils). CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm also offers non-toxic deep hydration that can help soften and smooth old scars.
Finally, if you feel a “lump-like” scar in an area where you had surgery, you may want to insist on thorough investigation to make sure it isn’t another tumor, an abscess, or something similar that requires attention. “When I had all that pain after my surgery (4 weeks later),” says fighter DulcimerGal, “the Doc’s office kept telling me to take pills-it was probably just scar tissue pulling they said…PHOOEY! It turned out to be that massive abscess the size of an orange.”
Have you found a great solution to scar tissue? Please let us know.
Photo courtesy of zomerstorm via Flickr.com.