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Exploring the Role of Scar Tissue: A Common Culprit in Post-Reconstruction Pain

While reconstructive surgery can rebuild form and function, scar tissue that develops internally can sometimes lead to chronic pain after the procedure. Understanding what scar tissue is and how to manage the discomfort is key. At The Institute, we can help navigate treatment for scar tissue when at-home remedies are not enough.

What is Scar Tissue?

Scar tissue, also called adhesions, forms as part of the body's natural healing process after an injury or surgery. It develops as structural tissues like skin, muscles, and nerves knit back together. This fibrous tissue helps bind the damaged areas but can also inadvertently attach to surrounding tissues and structures.

Scar tissue formation after mastectomies, breast reconstructions, or other breast cancer surgeries is very common. The dense internal scar tissue adhesions frequently develop around the surgical sites and can lead to chronic pain and tightness in the chest, underarms, and breast areas. In severe cases, scar tissue can even distort the shape or contour of the reconstructed breast over time as it contracts and hardens. Managing scar tissue is often an important part of post-operative breast cancer care. 

What Does Scar Tissue Pain Feel Like? 

The sensations caused by scar tissue adhesions can vary depending on the scarred area's location, extent, and movement. Many describe the discomfort as an internal tightness, almost like their tissues are being gripped or stuck together. The specific pain patterns can also change based on body position or certain movements that stretch or shift the adhered scar tissue. For example, scar tissue around an abdominal surgery may cause intense pulling with bending or twisting motions.

Common descriptions include:

  • A pulling, tugging, or tightness: As scar tissue attaches to surrounding tissues, it can create tensions that restrict mobility and flexibility, which can feel like an internal tightness or pulling sensation with movement.
  • Burning, tingling, or numbness: When scar tissue compresses or entraps nerves, it can cause neuropathic symptoms like burning, tingling, pins and needles, or numbness in the affected area.
  • Dull aching or throbbing: The buildup of tough, inelastic scar tissue can create pressures that translate into a constant dull, achy feeling or intermittent throbbing discomfort.
  • Increased sensitivity in the scarred area: Stuck onto nerves, scar tissue can make the scarred region sensitive to touch or pressure, with even light contact triggering sharp pain.

Scar Tissue Pain Years Later

For some patients, scar tissue may not immediately cause issues after reconstructive surgery. However, the body's internal scarring process can progress over time, resulting in delayed chronic pain symptoms months or even years down the road.

Even after surgical sites have initially healed, adhesions can slowly develop as the body overcompensates by depositing too much scar tissue. Activities, trauma, or other surgeries in the area can also disturb existing scar tissue, restarting the inflammatory processes that promote more scarring.

Patients may initially feel well after their reconstructive procedure only to later experience:

  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion
  • Localized aching or throbbing
  • Shooting pains with certain movements
  • Numbness, tingling or hypersensitivity

The gradual buildup may seem imperceptible at first until scar tissue accumulation reaches a tipping point, resulting in seemingly sudden chronic pain years after the original surgery. Early interventions can help control scar tissue formation before it progresses to this stage.

At-Home Treatments for Scar Tissue Pain

While not a cure, some remedies that may help minimize scar tissue-related discomfort include:

  • Massage to help loosen adhesions
  • Warm compresses to increase blood flow  
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
  • Maintaining movement to prevent stiffening

Medical Treatments for Post-Reconstruction Pain 

For severe or persistent scar tissue pain, medical options include:

  • Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
  • Nerve blocks to interrupt pain signals
  • Physical therapy and stretching  
  • Scar tissue release surgery
  • Scar tissue removal

Discover Relief from Post-Reconstruction Pain: Consult Our Specialists Today!

Do not let scar tissue hinder your quality of life after reconstructive surgery. If you suffer from pain after a procedure such as a mastectomy or breast surgery, you do not have to live with post-reconstruction pain syndrome. The reconstructive surgeons at the Institute for Advanced Reconstruction offer comprehensive solutions tailored to your needs. Schedule a consultation to explore the latest options for managing post-operative pain.