Medical Massage Diminishes Pain from Scar Tissue

The body’s means for healing physical injuries is marvelous and reliable.  Occasionally, things can go wrong.   Abnormal, dense and adhesive formations of fibrous scar tissue may form during the healing process.  Medical massage offers a cure.

Scar tissue can form as part of any collagen-based tissue such as skin, muscle, tendon, ligament, fascia and nerve. Scar tissue develops as a result of:

  • injury
  • repetitive strain
  • surgery
  • prolonged immobilization of a structure
  • burns and wounds
  • advanced osteoarthritis and inflammatory processes.

Scar tissue can interfere with normal patterns of movement by gluing together sections of collagen-based structures.  Dense scar tissue can cause pain during movement.  Worse, scar tissue can lead to peripheral neuropathic pain, and/or impaired circulation when surrounding nerve tissue and blood vessel tissue is captured into the scar.  Medical massage restores hardened scar tissue to a softer state.

I will give two case histories of pain caused by scar tissue and healed by medical massage.

Case History One:
A man came to my medical massage practice for treatment of severe back pain.  Surgery had not relieved his pain.  While both the deeper and the superficial muscles of his lumbar spine were in spasm, the originating cause of his pain problem was not in his back or spine.  The cause was in the connective tissue on the front side of his pelvis.

This individual had been a stunt pilot years before the pain problem began.  He wore a wide and very tight safety belt fastened around his pelvis that held him securely in the pilot’s seat as his plane dove and rolled through space.  His body was subjected to high levels of gravitational force.

As an experienced medical massage therapist, I knew where to examine him.  I found thick bands of hard, dense connective tissue (scar tissue) along the front side of his pelvis where the safety belt had secured his body.  Once medical massage therapy had restored these bands of connective tissue to a more normal state and condition, I was able to release the back spasms, and the patient made a good and lasting recovery.

Case History Two:
A woman came to my medical massage practice for treatment of peripheral neuropathy.  Over many years she walked several miles per day for exercise and pleasure.  Seemingly without any cause she began to experience pain, numbness and tingling in her feet.

The client had changed athletic shoes, obtained new orthotics, improved her stretching program, added mineral supplements and more water to her diet…but none of these therapeutic actions improved her condition.  In fact, her foot pain worsened steadily and the pain moved-up into her lower leg.  Two years after the onset of pain she was not able to stand for more than about 20 minutes.  At that point she consulted my medical massage practice.

As a medical massage therapist I always take a detailed medical history.  I discovered that about six months prior to the original onset of pain, the client had a laporoscopic hysterectomy.  That was the clue I needed.  I found bands of hardened, dense, thick connective tissue along the site where the surgical procedure had been performed. These bands had slowly and silently self-enlarged and thickened over many months until the dense bands were compressing the femoral artery and the femoral nerve.

Aggressive scar tissue was diminishing both blood supply and nerve-electrical supply to her leg and foot. Medical massage therapy restored the connective tissue to more normal conditions.  Pain abated and she was able to return to more normal activity, such as standing and walking for longer periods.

As scar tissue forms, an abnormal soft tissue condition called “adhesion” can form in the collagen tissue.  Adhesion occurs when collagen fibers cross-link forming a meshwork that resists stretch.  Adhesions usually restrict range of motion.  A skilled massage therapist can palpate or feel the hardened, thick, inelastic bands of scar tissue in the body’s connective tissue system.

The goal of medical massage therapy is to form a more mobile, functional scar.  Certain fascial techniques like cross-fiber friction, pin-and-stretch, tissue rolling and tissue spreading can help release the edges of the scar tissue.  As the adhesion loosens at its edges, it moves more freely.  The tissue surrounding the adhesion can be softened and stretched.  The goal is to develop a loose and supple scar tissue, rather than dense scar tissue.  The result is less pain and more functional movement.


Joan Sloss, Ed.D. LMT
Medical Massage Therapist
Healing Unleashed, LLC
Lakewood, Colorado 80235

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2 Comments on Medical Massage Diminishes Pain from Scar Tissue

  1. Ann says:

    Would like to know your professional opinion. I am a massage therapist. And I have a client who has a huge scar alone her whole spine. Do you think it is safe enough to do cross-fiber friction over her spine? I would definetely do it anywhere else, but right over the spine? Is that safe enough?

    • Healing Unleashed says:

      Hi Ann. Thanks for reading blog on scar tissue and thanks for your question. I do not recommend using friction on scar tissue. I have achieved much better results with slow, deeper,cross-fiber myofascial glide. Myofascial glide is less painful and very effective at spreading and loosening adhesive fibers. When using myofascial glide start with more superficial tissues and gradually work deeper as the session endures. Results will be poor unless you focus your attention consistently on the response and the changes of the fascia. This requires good palpation skills, and the ability to palpate deeper layers of fascia, and the ability to detect and recognize disturbances in the connective tissue (such as the feel of strain patterns). Also this work is effective only when performed very, very, very slowly. So the therapist must develop the skill to maintain a smooth, even, slow glide. It is not safe to do cross-fiber friction over the spine. It is safe to perform correctly applied myofascial work.

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