Scar tissue forms when healthy tissue is damaged by surgery, injury, or disease. All scar tissue is fibrous, but there are multiple types depending on the location and severity of the injury. Scars can form anywhere on the skin or inside the body. They are permanent, though some treatments can improve them.
Scar tissue on the skin is fairly common. The skin is the largest organ, and throughout our lifetimes, we experience many injuries that can leave a scar. Whether or not a scar forms depends on many factors including age, sex, and ethnicity. The size and initial treatment of the wound also play a role, as do genetics.
Two types of scar tissue that can form on the skin are hypertrophic scars and keloids. The former are red, raised scars that do not spread beyond the injury. Keloids are large scars that stick out from the skin and spread. They are caused by an overproduction of cells and, in time, may cause difficulties with movement.
Acne scar tissue is a common complication of acne and can have a huge impact on a person's psychosocial well-being. Atrophic scars, which cause indentations in the skin, are particularly difficult to treat. One study showed that injectable filler had moderate results, but more research is needed to determine long-term efficacy.
Burns can cause contracture scar tissue that tightens and reduces the skin's ability to move. This scarring can occur from second- and third-degree burns. Second-degree burns go into the second layer of skin, and third-degree burns reach the layer of fat under the skin. Burn scars can go deep into the muscles and nerves.
Over-the-counter or prescription gels, creams, or ointments can treat scar tissue on the skin. The doctor may also recommend steroid injections into the scar or laser surgery to lighten raised or flat scars. Surgery is needed in some cases; for example, severe burns often require skin grafting.
Scar tissue can form inside the body, too. When lung tissue is damaged and becomes scarred, it causes pulmonary fibrosis. This fibrous tissue in the lungs makes it difficult to breathe. The scarring that causes pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by multiple things, but doctors are not always able to determine a cause.
Myocardial infarction results in scar tissue forming in the heart to replace the cardiac cells damaged by the attack. This tissue does not have the same structure as normal heart tissue and cannot contract rhythmically or conduct electrical signals effectively. Scar tissue puts additional stress on the heart and affects its performance.
Abdominal adhesions are fibrous bands of tissue that can develop in the abdominal organs and tissues after surgery. They cause the tissues and organs to stick together and may lead to pain or bowel obstruction. Medical professionals can help prevent abdominal adhesions in patients by choosing a minimally invasive surgical option when possible, though this is not always an option.
Certain techniques can minimize scar tissue on the skin. Cuts and scrapes should be kept clean, and petroleum jelly can be applied to keep the wound moist, which can help it heal faster, minimizing scarring. Apply bandages over the petroleum jelly, and change them daily. After the wound has healed, apply sunscreen to the scar to prevent discoloration, so the scar fades as quickly as possible.
Some scars may respond to massage therapy. For example, one study shows that massage therapy significantly helped burn patients with hypertrophic scars. In this study, the massage group experienced a decrease in thickness, color, and redness. The results also show that massage significantly improved other issues associated with scarring, including pain and itching.
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