This week we had our first meeting with the cleft team for our daughters first lip surgery she will have late this summer. It got me thinking about the impending scar that will soon take the place of her beautiful wide smile ( I am sure the scar will be beautiful too – Update: It is! I belong to a group of adoptive parents of Chinese-American children and one group of adoptive parents of cleft-affected children. Almost weekly, the topic of scar tissue massage comes up. “What should I do?’, or “What should I use?” commonly are asked by fellow board dwellers. Here is my take and professional experience on massage for all types of scars.
Post-surgical scar massage has become increasingly popular in the massage field. With the increase of C-sections, gastric bypass, breast augmentation/reductions, and other surgeries, people are looking for ways to make it LOOK and FEEL like these surgeries did not take place. Luckily scar massage is one of those easy things people can do at home that makes a big cosmetic and physical difference. Massage therapists can also help people with complex scars, scars that are hard to reach, or they can help instruct clients about scar management at home.
First, why do we massage scars? We massage scars to:
- increase pliability, movement, or range of motion in the area
- decrease the appearance of scar
- increase circulation to the area to speed up healing of skin, muscle and nerve tissues
- decrease pain or tightness (“tugging”) in the area
Can all scars benefit from massage?
Yes, all scars, new (immature) or old (mature 10+ weeks old) and small or large, can benefit from massage. Although new scar tissue responds much better and will show better results than old scar tissue. Think of old, hard scars as play-dough that has been left out a while. Sometimes a few drops of water and a good kneading massage can bring the dough back to its soft, playful self. Dough that has only been out a little while requires much less effort.
How should you massage the scar?
Well, no two scars are the same and every massage therapist, doctor, plastic surgeon, etc has a different opinion about how to perform scar massage.
Most will tell you to use either:
- tranverse friction – side to side massage strokes across the scar
- circular friction – small gentle circular strokes around and on the scar
In general, most scars can benefit from either of these strokes for 5 minutes twice daily. For more complex, or large scars, or ones involving a lot of muscle pain, a massage therapist is where I recommend you go. Some massage therapists provide myofascial massage other massage techniques to cover a broad area or complex scar tissue effectively.
What to use?
There are a lot of expensive creams, gels, and oils out there that promise to reduce the appearance of scars. Is it the creams reducing the scar tissue or the act of massaging the cream in that reduces the appearance? I have looked at the ingredients in these products and found not nothing to make me think they will work better than a high-quality massage cream. People will rave about the old-school treatments of vitamin E oil, castor oil, or evening primrose oil. I am sure there are also a few aromatherapists reading this are thinking “is she going to mention helichrysum, mandarin, frankincense or lavender essential oil?” Done. All these products are known for their ability to help reduce scars and improve healing. Again, in my opinion, clean hands and any high-quality (I am a Sacred Earth and Soothing Touch fan) lubricant that reduces friction a little is a good option.
Here are links to my favorite products for scar massage:
Final words and When a scar is more than a scar
When working on a scar, remember to start slowly and not too soon. Never work on an open lesion. Ask your doctor or massage therapist about scar massage if you have questions. Also, scars can sometimes hold a lot of emotional baggage. Whether it be a scar from a delivery that wasn’t perfect, a battle wound from cancer, or a scar from a childhood injury, we need to recognize this is more than just tissue here. Everyone needs to be patient with the body’s healing process, client and practitioner. All healing takes time, and in an instant gratification world, this is hard for people to comprehend.
Anyone with before or after photos or any experience/insights?
Ivy Hultquist L.M.T.