When any sort of damage occurs to the soft tissues, like a strain or sprain, the body immediately goes into a process of repair. Where the individual fibres have been ruptures, or torn, the body begins to bind the damaged fibres together using a fibrous protein called collagen. Or, as it’s more commonly known, scar tissue!
You see, when a muscle is torn, you would expect that the body would repair that tear with new muscle. In reality, this doesn’t happen. The tear, or rupture, is repaired with scar tissue.
Now this might not sound like a big deal, but if you have ever suffered a soft tissue injury, you’ll know how annoying it is to keep re-injuring that same old injury, over and over again. Untreated scar tissue is the major cause to re-injury, usually months after you thought that injury had fully healed.
What is Scar Tissue?
Scar tissue is made from an inflexible fibrous material. This fibrous material binds itself to the damaged soft tissue fibres in an effort to draw the damaged fibres back together. What results is a bulky mass of fibrous scar tissue completely surrounding the injury site. In some cases it’s even possible to see and feel this bulky mass under the skin.
When scar tissue forms around an injury site, it is never as strong as the tissue it replaces. It also has a tendency to contract and deform the surrounding tissues, so not only is the strength of the tissue diminished, but flexibility of the tissue is also compromised.
So what does this mean for the athlete? Firstly, it means a shortening of the soft tissues which results in a loss of flexibility. Secondly, it means a weak spot has formed within the soft tissues, which could easily result in further damage.
Lastly, the formation of scar tissue will result in a loss of strength and power. For a muscle to attain full power it must be fully stretched before contraction. Both the shortening effect and weakening of the tissues means that a full stretch and optimum contraction is not possible.
Now, if you’ve taken the advice from part 1, and used the R.I.C.E.R. regime to treat the initial reaction to a soft tissue injury, you’re well on your way to a complete recovery. If however, you didn’t use the R.I.C.E.R. regime, you’re behind the eight-ball, so to speak. Let me explain.
Initially following an injury the body responds by sending large amounts of blood to the injury site. If this isn’t controlled, with the R.I.C.E.R. regime, it will result in massive bleeding, swelling and pain. More importantly, it will also result in a large formation of bulky, painful scar tissue.
R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) will help to control the bleeding, swelling and pain, but more importantly, it will also control the formation of scar tissue. When the R.I.C.E. regime is used correctly, there will only be a minimal formation of scar tissue, which allows for optimal return of flexibility and strength.
How do we get rid of Scar Tissue?
So, how do we put the finishing touches on your recovery? How do we get rid of that annoying formation of scar tissue?
Firstly, you must keep active! Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to do nothing. Now is the time to start active rehabilitation (pilates, swimming or yoga). Most of the swelling will have subsided after the first 48 to 72 hours and you are likely ready to start light activity (but always speak with your doctor prior to beginning).
Light activity not only promotes blood circulation, but it will also activates the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is vital in clearing the body of toxins and waste products, which can accumulate in the body following a sports injury. Activity is the only way to activate the lymphatic system.
Before we move on, a quick word of warning. Never, Never, Never do any activity that hurts the injured area. Of course you may feel some discomfort, but NEVER, NEVER push yourself to the point where you’re feeling pain. Listen to your body. Don’t over do it at this stage of the recovery, you’ve come too far to blow it now. (This is why it is advisable to work with one our chiropractic doctors to create a treatment plan best suited to your injuries)
To complete your recovery and remove most of the unwanted scar tissue, you now need to start two vital treatments. The first primarily involves increasing the blood supply to the injured area. The aim is to increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the damaged tissues.
1) Ultrasound, or TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) simply uses a light electrical pulse to stimulate the affected area. While heat, in the form of a ray lamp or hot water bottle, is very effective in stimulating blood flow to the damaged tissues.
Secondly, to remove the unwanted scar tissue it is vital that you start a course of deep tissue sports massage. While ultrasound and heat will help the injured area, they will not remove the scar tissue. Only cross-friction massage will be able to do that.
At Live Well we have therapists who can treat the scar with cross-friction massage!
A few final points
Just a few final points before we finish up. Be sure to drink plenty of fluid during your injury rehabilitation. The extra fluid will help to flush a lot of the waste products from your body.
Also, I recommend you purchase a special ointment to use for your massage called “Arnica”. This special ointment is extremely effective in treating soft tissue injuries, like sprains, strains and tears. You can purchase this ointment at most health food shops and pharmacies.
Now, if you’ve come this far, you’ve done well. If you’ve applied the information in this article you should be well on your way to a complete recovery.
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Dr. Matthew Gloin
Chiropractor Dr. Matthew Gloin has been freeing people from pain and helping people live healthier lives since 2003 in his chiropractic clinic in Los Angeles, California. As a Chiropractor with tremendous experience and compassion he is extremely committed to promoting improved health and well being for his patients. Dr. Gloin uses a “whole person approach” when caring for his patients. He believes that all health issues must to be thoroughly examined and understood in order to optimally improve health. Treating symptoms is not the best way to promote health and as such extra attention must be given to the potential causes of health problems. He makes sure his patients understand their problem(s) so that they may be involved in the treatment and be proactive in the solution.