What is the role of scar tissue in the body?
When we “tear” a muscle, we are often told that what is created in the healing process is called scar tissue. If we accidentally cut ourselves, scrape a knee, or otherwise damage our skin, we can often even see the scar that forms as the cut or scrape heals. But, what is scar tissue and why does it form?
Scar tissue is connective tissue
When we tear a muscle like our hamstrings, or sprain an ankle, what we actually tear is one or more layers of connective tissue. Scar tissue is also connective tissue. It’s the kind of connective tissue that the body uses to repair the damaged connective tissue. Scar tissue can form on the surface of the skin, when we scrape a knee for example, and it can also form internally, when we damage a muscle, tendon, ligament, or other soft-tissue structure.
How is scar tissue formed and laid down?
When we tear a muscle, our body cues specific types of cells called fibroblasts, which make the components of connective tissue, to quickly create new connective tissue to repair the tear. When each layer of fascia in and around our muscles is originally laid down, the fibers all go in the same direction. When we tear connective tissue though, the scar tissue is laid down across the torn fibers in a less organized pattern. Scar tissue is laid down in what is often described as a “cross-hatch” type of pattern. This creates the most secure repair of the damaged area.
How to work with scar tissue
Although the cross-hatching pattern of newly laid down scar tissue does a great job of repairing the damaged area, it also creates some tension in that same area when the scar tissue fibers pull the original connective tissue fibers together so they can heal. Depending on the extent of the injury or damage to the area, the tension caused by the scar tissue can impact range of motion and muscle movement.
As soon as it is safe to move the injured area (and after you have permission from your doctor if you have a more serious injury), the best way to begin to realign the scar tissue fibers with the fascia, and reduce the tension in the area, is to gently move the area. If you have a serious injury, the medical professionals who are overseeing your care will recommend physical therapy or other movement therapy that’s appropriate for your situation.