Sticky Situation: What Scars & Adhesions Are Doing to Your Body

Your sore shoulder, constipation, sexual pain, infertility--all of these things can be a result of scar tissue in your body.  Why hasn’t anyone told you about this possibility before?   Mainstream medicine rarely looks at scar tissue because they have not incorporated effective ways for diagnosing and treating scar tissue.  

Working with scar tissue, particularly in the abdomen and pelvis, is part of my training as a sexological bodyworker.  My teacher, Dr. Ellen Heed, describes scar tissue as one of the four obstacles to radiant health as crucial as imbalances in posture, emotions and nutrition.  The good news is that scar tissue can be easy to find and there are simple ways to work with it.

Where Does Scar Tissue Come From?
We are all familiar with scars that form when our skin has been cut.  Sometimes dark purple, sometimes white, scars knit our tissues back together.  Scar tissue can also form under the surface where we cannot see it.  In addition to cuts and surgeries we can develop scar tissue from infection, injuries, illness, childbirth and inflammation in the body.  Emotions held in our tissues lead to what Heed calls chronic “crunch spots.” These are areas of the body that stiffen or collapse, such as hunched over shoulders that accompany depression, and then change our posture. Adhesions can form in these crunch spots.

What is Scar Tissue?
When an area is injured, cells called fibroblasts come in to protect and knit the area back together.  Fibroblasts are rich in collagen making for a more dense connective tissue.  These fibroblasts are also highly disorganized--they form in random patterns that do not match the rest of our tissues.  This combination of density and disorganization is responsible for the crunchy, bumpy and inflexible feelings we often associate with scars. 

What are Adhesions?
All of the muscles and organs in your body are covered by a layer of fascia.  Fascia is like a thin sweater that covers, penetrates and separates muscles and organs.  Scar tissue likes to travel along fascia, its disorganization can cause it to continually form and travel from your right hip all the way up to your left shoulder along the knit highway of fascia.  

If you have a c-section scar and suddenly have sexual pain one day, this can be due to scar tissue traveling from you abdomen down into your pelvis and forming adhesions.  Layers between tissues are meant to slide and glide but adhesions can make make these layers sticky. In the case of sexual pain, you might have two pelvic muscles that have less slide and glide between them and this decreased range of mobility and elasticity can cause discomfort.   In the case of infertility, adhesions can infringe on the walls of the fallopian tubes so there is not ample space for an egg to pass through.  Constipation can be caused by the intestines being adhered to the abdominal wall.  

What Do Scar Tissue and Adhesions Feel Like?
Most of our scar tissue and adhesion are easy to feel and sometimes it may take some skill to identify.  If you have scar tissue in your own body it can manifest as tightness and soreness in joints—like a stiff shoulder or a tight hip.  You will likely feel a limited range of motion when adhesions are present.  Scar tissue, particularly around incisions, can feel numb like pins and needles or you may experience a pulling or stretching sensation.  

When palpating for scar tissue look for areas under your fingers that feel like wires, crunchy or hard little pebbles.  The sensation of these areas can be everything from numb or dull to sharp knife-like pain.

What You Can Do

  1. Gentle Stretching - This works particularly well when your body is warm after a walk or cardio exercise. Stretch into those sticky spots toward the sensation of a gentle stretch.

  2. Castor Oil Packs - Castor oil comes from the castor seed and has been used as a healing remedy for centuries. Castor oil reduces inflammation and helps to melt scar tissue. You can find supplies for castor oil packs (castor oil and flannel or wool) at your local holistic pharmacy. Be sure to use high quality organic castor oil and test with a small amount to be sure that you do not have an allergic reaction.

  3. Bodywork - Some bodywork practitioners are trained to help dissolve scar tissue. The assistance of another’s touch can be quite effective. In sexological bodywork, we use castor oil for scar massage. Sexological bodyworkers also have the training to do internal pelvic work. Other modalities that work with scar tissue are myofascial release and visceral manipulation. Some physical therapists and occupational therapists are also skilled at working with scar tissue and may include internal work in their practice.

In short, you want to think heat, movement and friction for melting scars. When scars soften, you can find more slide and glide in the tissues, increased range of motion and blood flow and a decrease in any discomfort that the adhesions are causing.