Massage therapy offers many benefits for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Surgery often results in damage to healthy tissues which leads to scar tissue formation. Although scar tissue buildup is a normal physiological response when there is damage below the deep layer of skin, it may result in ongoing physical symptoms that can be uncomfortable and limiting to movement and ability to perform daily tasks. As healthy muscles and connective tissues are replaced with a protein called collagen at the incision site, the result can be shortening and contracting of muscles, fascia and joints near the scar. Depending on the extent of the surgical incision, nerve endings and blood vessels may also be damaged and this can result in unpleasant sensations ranging from sensitivity to even light touch, pins and needles or even burning. If the scar is very thick and fibrous it may impair the natural healing processes of these structures. Fortunately, massage therapy can release the adhesions stemming from in and around the scar resulting in better healing, appearance and function of the region. Massage therapy can be helpful in restoring movement and allowing you to return to activities pain-free.
Here are some tips for scar tissue self-massage:
- Use the pads or soft tips of your fingers to massage the scar and tissue around the scar. Massage in all three directions. You should apply as much pressure as you can tolerate.
- Circles: Using two fingers make small circles over the length of the scar and the skin surrounding it.
- Vertical: Using two fingers massage the scar up-and-down.
- Horizontal: Using two fingers massage the scar from side-to-side.
- Begin with light pressure and progress to deeper and firmer pressure. Massage lotion in, applying enough pressure to make the scar area lighten in color or turn white.
- Start with one self-massage session daily for ten minutes each time. The first week allows you to observe how you respond – if you notice soreness after the massage, simply decrease the intensity and pressure of the massage strokes. If no adverse effects are noticed in the first week, progress to two to three times daily in the second week. Continue for at least six months following your surgery or injury.
At the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine Integrative Cancer Centre, we offer a Post-Surgical Scar Treatment Package that consists of 3 massage therapy treatments, scheduled about 6-8 weeks after your surgery, to help reduce scar tissue and speed up your return to regular activities.