scar tissue

Scar tissue - is it an issue?

Is scar tissue really an issue? Alongside myself, scars may be one of the most under appreciated and neglected structures, when it comes to assessing aspects of an individual's pain and movement limitations.   For many people, which include physicians, surgeons and often the owners of said scars, there’s an acceptance that the scar has healed and is not involved in any process of pain, strength or movement dysfunction. Dr’s and surgeons often assume that time enables optimal healing and patients simply forget about the previous trauma. Time may be a great healer but the healing is only partial - the nervous system always remembers. Writing this, reminds me of a client who had filled in all historical injury and trauma that he had experienced on my intake forms, which might have been a factor in his chronic back pain. It wasn’t until he took his top off and under questioning revealed that he had  donated his kidney to his brother some twenty years ago. It wasn't a big deal though as it was twenty years ago apparently.

This sequence of events has been summarised as homeostatic, inflammation, granulation and remodelling phases (1) which are undergoing symbiotic relationships with other structures and dependant on energetic, endocrine and other functions of the individual, which often depend on environmental stimulus. During the granulation and proliferation phase, sub-phases, which include collagen deposition, remodelling of blood vessels and tissues occur. It’s likely that during these phases the health and energetic response of the individual will dictate the capacity to regenerate and may also influence the layers of dysfunction that are present with scar tissue.

“ In childhood, wounds heal quickly and inflammation is resolved, in extreme age, or during extreme stress or starvation, wound healing is much slower and the nature of inflammation and would closure is different. “Ray Peat.

Unsaturated vegetable fats, serotonin and estrogen promote collagen synthesis and resulting fibrosis and keloid scars are associated with these states (3). Perhaps the capacity to organise energy and regenerate are instrumental in decreasing the associated dysfunctions that can be found in all scar tissue? Most Drs that I have spoken to just assume that after 12 weeks the scar has generally healed and that normally activity can be resumed. As a rule, there is no thought given to mechanical, pain sensitising or emotional constraints induced by the presence of the scar. It’s generally accepted that most scars have 80% tensile strength of the previous structure, but again might that too be a product of the quality of healing available to the individual?

“ The amount of disorganised fibrous material formed in injured tissue is variable and depends on state of the individual and tissue situation. “

In hypothyroidism, high levels of the pituitary hormone TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) are known to stimulate fibrosis (1) Maintaining adequate thyroid hormone production promotes DNA transcription, optimal energy production, carbon dioxide production and probably decreases the proliferative effects of 'estrogenic' states that can be attributed to keloid scar formation.

The bigger the scar, the more likely the associated dysfunction? Perhaps the more disorganised tissue that exists, the increased likelihood of fuzziness between the central nervous system and output to structures associated with that scar. In scar tissue that has not been assessed or treated, it's relatively easy to induce weakness or stress to the surrounding tissues by a variety of stimulus which might include thinking and different types of pain,  touch or vectors of stretch that create neurological chaos or threat to to the individual.

Good therapy should allow for conversations between the clinician and patient that create stimulus that may (or may not) affect the output of surrounding structures associated with the scar. Poor feedback mediated by the scar might involve the following:

Emotional: Aspects of recall of the event that the individual finds upsetting.

Nociception/pain: First and second pain, visual or auditory, crude/fine touch, tickle/itch temperature, stress or recall od suffering responses to stimulus. (Involve pain feedback related to spinothalamic, spinotectal, spinohypothalamic and spinomesencephalic tracts)

Mechanical: Pressure, rebound, stretch, joint mechanoreceptors and other responses to tissue and structures. (Related to Golgi, Pacini, Ruffini and other dorsal column feedback pathways.)

Improving the optimal healing of scar tissue might involve aspects such as adequate carbohydrate, proteins, sunlight (or red light), carbon dioxide, thyroid, progesterone, vitamin A and E. Avoiding phytoestrogens and low carbohydrate diets would also be prudent.

Despite optimised nutrition and endocrine function, it’s likely that many scars leave some artefact that prevents the nervous system communicating with tissues. C - sections, episiotomies, appendectomies, laparoscopies and most surgeries, injuries or trauma leave a trace that needs to be resolved with the right therapy. Inhibition can be purposeful but restoration might need a little nudge from therapies like proprioceptive deep tendon reflex (P-DTR).

References:

  1. Kim, D., Kim, W., Joo, S. K., Bae, J. M., Kim, J. H., & Ahmed, A. (2018). Subclinical Hypothyroidism and Low-Normal Thyroid Function Are Associated With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis and Fibrosis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 16(1), 123–131.e1. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2017.08.014

  2. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1298129-overview?pa=1ZDxXAnEOeNV9BUnYezdYpt49YJzASbxEvvw80YIDjlelzZDQj3XLvbI0V2MbTq%2FX8MwC0EECwzp432Skuf9qw%3D%3D

  3. http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/regeneration-degeneration.shtml

What is regional interdependence?

What is regional interdependence and why do we need to know more about it? History is often the most prevalent factor for the exposure to future injuries. Many clients and surprisingly clinicians are often blissfully unaware of the impact of previous injuries on current and future injury scenarios. Here are five key examples of actual clients that I have worked with.

  1. Left sided lower back pain, not resolved with surgery, from 40 year-old scar, left by kidney removal at the age of 1.
  2. Ankle injury causing lower back pain.
  3. Appendectomy scar, decreasing core function, causing lower back pain.
  4. Ear piercing creating shoulder dysfunction on the opposite shoulder.
  5. Hyper –contracted toe muscles creating mobility issues in neck.

Of course there are more, hundreds, perhaps thousands more. For the evidence medicine biased people, I am not about to create theoretical models for you to shoot down with a lack of scientific literature. Although there are increasing studies that support the rationale for regional interdependence. There are also many methods of assessment that create adequate reasoning to show how restriction, lack of stability and dysfunction in one area of the body may have a significant impact on other areas of the body. SFMA (selective functional movement assessment), Gray institute, Anatomy in Motion and many other forms of assessment provide insights to how a lack of mobility and stability at the ankle has an impact on say mechanics of the knee, hip, spine, shoulder and head.

Many practitioners and clinicians have often been taught to view each issue in isolation, which to a degree can be helpful; As local problems can often be responsible for a global issue. Think a scar, such as a C-section, inhibiting core function, increasing dysfunction in the posterior chain not addressed by anterior chain function. But what about when symptoms persist? True, there are many factors that can contribute to pain and dysfunction that simply will not be addressed by massage/trigger points, needles and corrective exercise and I might suggest that some gains may serve as mask to the actual underlying dysfunction.

 

10264312_699027360144587_8762295179813694115_nYou may have observed the concept of regional interdependence after having a good calf massage. Ever noticed how good your neck feels after having your feet and calf massaged? There’s a clear fascial line between the feet and the neck as proposed by Myers in the superficial back line. There is also literature to support the concept of viscerosomatic pain referrals. This may include pre menstrual issues on back pain or gastro-intestinal dysfunction involved in headaches. To address these dysfunctions truly we need to get to the root cause of the issues. That neck often gets tight again after having those feet massaged as the compensatory muscles are overworking for an underworking area.

If perhaps the calf muscles are overworking due to a lack of function in their antagonistic muscles such as the dorsi-flexors or shin muscles. You may well see the neck tightness dissipate, when this relationship is addressed. Follow up mobility work may also be useful for the neck.

Determining mobility versus stability issues is paramount. A decrease in mobility may come from many sources such as:

  • A lack of stability -( how to determine video)
  • Breathing pattern dysfunction (a stability issue)
  • Biochemical – vitamin D/K2/A/calcium factors
  • Gluten –stiff person syndrome, A tentative link between the consumption of gluten and muscle stiffness.

Here we can see the futile task of mobilising joints via releasing and stretching muscles, when there exists factors that contribute to the lack of mobility, that will not resolve with mobilisations.

It’s important for the patient to bring a complete injury history to the table and for the clinician to assess the impact and hierarchy of all factors. Determining mobility against stability factors, improving motor control and treating via the suggestion of regional interdependence may be more beneficial than simply just treating overworked painful areas.

 

References:

 

  1. Cook, G et al. SFMA Course Manual. 2011
  2. Hadjivassiliou M1, Aeschlimann D, Grünewald RA, Sanders DS, Sharrack B, Woodroofe N. GAD antibody-associated neurological illness and its relationship to gluten sensitivity. Acta Neurol Scand. 2011 Mar;123(3):175-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0404.2010.01356.x
  3. Myers. T. Anatomy Trains. Elsevier. 2014.
  4. Sueki D. G., Cleland J. A., Wainner R. S. A regional interdependence model of musculoskeletal dysfunction: research, mechanisms, and clinical implications. Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy. 2013;21(2):90–102. doi: 10.1179/2042618612y.0000000027