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ScarWork Treatment - Holistic Approach to Integrating Scar Tissue

by Emma Holly(more info)

listed in massage, originally published in issue 228 - February 2016

A new holistic therapy has reached the UK for treating scars caused by accidents or surgery. This therapy, called ScarWork can be used on both new and very old scar tissue with great results. ScarWork is taught with a holistic approach to the body and is often incorporated together with other forms of bodywork such as Rolfing, remedial massage, fascial work or with energy balancing and integration.

As a practising therapist at Restore Therapy in Harpenden, Hertfordshire I have been amazed by these techniques and since learning ScarWork I have dedicated much of my time to promoting and sharing this amazing treatment. ScarWork seems to stimulate further healing even in very old scars. Clients come to me with scar tissue that feels tight and ropey, perhaps has gaps or dips in the scar. There may also be adhesions (where tissue has become stuck to surrounding tissue, muscle, organs or fascia which would not normally be attached and this restricts natural movement) any of these issues may be causing discomfort to my clients. These problems dissipate using ScarWork to improve the health of the underlying tissues - the muscles, fibres, fascia, blood and lymph vessels, nerve endings and organs.

This is a refreshing approach to scar tissue treatment, unlike traditional scar massage which strips out and irradiates scar tissue, we are taught to approach scar tissue gently, not as tissue to break up or material to strip, instead we are taught to think of scars as made up of valuable tissue to integrate and re-connect into healthy tissue.

After accidents or surgery it is natural to form a scar. As part of the healing process a different type of tissue is needed to close the gap created by the surgery or injury, and this scar tissue contains more collagen so it sticks together and contains less blood and lymph vessels. Our normal skin has fibres that lay in a basket weave formation whereas scar tissue lays down in a crosshatched formation usually opposing or countering the normal alignment. Scar tissue is much stronger, but less functional.

Once initial healing has finished in the scar it can be left feeling tight or have lumpy or hard sections, this is especially common if there was an infection during healing. Some people report loss of feeling, or a change in sensation where nerve damage has occurred around the scar. All these symptoms can be helped to an extent with ScarWork and most people respond quickly to treatment, though recovery will be dependent on the severity of the problems. Scar tissue will remain in the area, but it will become better integrated with the surrounding tissues and feel flatter and smoother.

before and after c-section scar

Before and after c-section scar

Problems from scar tissue can cause wider issues in our body, for example the most common secondary problem from caesarean scars is lower back and pelvic pain. The sacrum, which is at the base of your spine, is an essential component to movement. Adhesions can form between the scar area and the sacrum and these tight bands of scar tissue can stick together tissues, organs, muscles and ligaments that should not be connected, restricting movement and putting strain on the body. In turn other areas of the spine try and compensate for the lack of mobility around the sacrum, leading to further problems and causing backache.

ScarWork therapy works directly on the scar tissue and the therapist will also use specially developed movements across the surrounding area to release any underlying adhesions and work towards clearing restrictions of movement between the tissues organs and muscles. At Restore Therapy I find my clients have been surprised by the results this gentle treatment achieves, and they are always expecting me to use some special creams or lasers when I talk about scar therapy. When I start with just light movements with my hands they are pleasantly surprised that it does not hurt and some have even gone to sleep during treatments!

Clients often start their first session saying:

“I am sure you wont be able to do much with this old scar, and I have got used to it now.”

Then by the end of the first session they are happy with the immediate difference. Often in the days following treatment, clients notice the daily discomfort that their scar had been causing, but that they had got used to feeling, only once it ceases they realise how much it bothered them.

before and after bowel cancer scars

Before and after bowel cancer scars

At Restore Therapy, I have had a broad range of scars to treat so far including heart bypass surgery, post cancer surgery, smaller scars such as thyroid removal and scars from keyhole surgeries. Scars from cosmetic procedures including breast augmentation and tummy tuck scars. The youngest scars I have worked on include a 10 week old caesarean section and some of the oldest scars I have treated include a client with severe scaring from motorbike accident over 30 years old and facial scars from another road traffic accident almost 20 years old which were lovely to see change after so long.

ScarWork: A Case Study

This is an example of a client who had surgery caused by Crohn’s disease in 1998. A few years after surgery she had an ectopic pregnancy. Then, following fertility treatment, she had twins by caesarean section. In 2014 she needed a radical hysterectomy as scar tissue from the earlier procedures had wrapped around her organs and caused damage. Following these four surgical interventions in the abdominal area she came for one 60 minute treatment in October 2015 with the following results.

Before 60 minute ScarWork Treatment Top and Side View

Before 60 minute ScarWork Treatment Top and Side View

 Crohns Scar After 1 and 2 Composite

After 60 minute ScarWork Treatment Top and Side View

The scar running across her side is from the Crohn’s operation in 1998. This is where ScarWork treatment was concentrated in the initial session as she was most self-conscious about this scar. You can see from the photos that it was adhered under the skin causing a ridge. This single treatment released the adhesions enough to lessen the depth and the width of the scar. The improvement will be permanent and subsequent sessions are likely to bring continued improvement.

ScarWork Treatments

Treatment is typically given in a session lasting an hour or less. Clients lie on a massage table exposing the scar and surrounding area. Even in just one session, scars can be permanently changed with lumps and hard sections under the skin softening and the skin surface feeling smoother and softer. Tightness, or lumpy, ropey scars can be loosened and areas where tissues may be adhered or stuck can be released. Depending on the condition of the scar it may be that only one treatment is enough to leave clients feeling more comfortable, or in cases where there are more substantial problems a series of treatments may be recommended. I have found that leaving at least three weeks between treatments allows for the optimum benefit from each session. When asked what the treatments feel like, clients report it is like a dry gentle massage, sometimes as the scar tissue is gently stretched they can feel a pulling or stretching sensation. Often feelings of warmth are felt as blood is flushed into the area and sometimes a tingling sensation as nerve endings are stimulated. After treatments some clients report sensation returning to areas that have previously felt numb.

ScarWork can be used on many types of scars where the skin has been broken and the underlying tissue has been damaged. It is not suitable for acne scars or stretch marks as it is working on a deeper level of tissue change. In some scars, such as skin graphs or hernia treatments surgical mesh may have been inserted, as ScarWork may disturb the surgical mesh it is not recommended to have treatment over that area. Unfortunately, Keliod scars do not respond to ScarWork.

So how soon after injury or surgery can you get a treatment? As long as your scar is fully healed, infection free, you have been signed off by your doctor and are not suffering from any condition where massage is contra-indicated you are able to have a ScarWork treatment.

ScarWork Development

ScarWork was developed by Sharon Wheeler from Seattle. Sharon is a Rolfer, or Structural Integration therapist who trained with the founder of Rolfing Dr. Ida P. Rolf in 1970.[1] Throughout her career Sharon developed the ScarWork techniques and having established that these techniques were completely unique and able to stimulate change other scar tissue treatments were not able to produce she began a training program.  Working closely with Sharon Wheeler, Body in Harmony Training[2] is the accredited provider in the UK. Courses are available to already qualified therapists to add ScarWork to their practice. Currently there are only 65 qualified therapists in the UK.[3] 

References

1. About Sharon Wheeler - www.wheelerfascialwork.com/the-rolfing-legacy/about-sharon   

2. www.bodyinharmony.org.uk

3. Data correct from Body in Harmony Training November 2015.

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About Emma Holly

Emma Holly ScarWork Therapist; Restore Therapy is a massage therapist running a small private practice in Harpenden, Hertfordshire where she lives with her family. Emma originally trained in massage in 1993, throughout her career she has enjoyed learning new techniques to bring diversity to her clients. Having studied ScarWork in Edinburgh in April 2015 Emma is now dedicating time to promoting this therapy which she has seen make remarkable changes to individuals and would like to see adopted as a scar treatment widely available across the UK by complimentary practitioners and physiotherapists. She may be contacted via info@restoretherapy.co.uk    www.scarworktreatments.com        www.facebook.com/scarworktreatmentsuk        www.youtube.com/channel/UCKTmol6ht8WLl3qMH-4a_1A

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