Pain in Incision – Months After Surgery
Scars are not supposed to hurt. Yet, sometimes, and even commonly, surgical scars do cause pain. So, if you have pain in your incision, especially months after you had your surgery, you’re probably tired of it! What’s happening is that scars form internally and externally, plus you could have had an injury to your nerve.
Scar tissue is thick and fibrous, replacing healthy tissues that have been damaged by a cut, injury, or surgery. Scar tissue is not just the scar you see on the outside. Internal tissue damage forms scar tissue inside your body, too.
Usually, early on, scar tissue isn’t painful right after surgery. During the operation, the nerves in the area are affected along with healthy tissues. But as time goes on, scar tissue starts to grow and often causes pain as your nerve endings begin to regenerate.
Common Causes for Pain in Incision After Surgery
The most common cause of pain at the incision site after surgery is an injured nerve or a nerve that is stuck within some scar tissue. So, you end up with pain from the scar tissue itself and sometimes even itchiness, swelling, or general increased sensitivity to touch.
Common causes for incision site pain are:
- Nerve Damage – Injury to nerves during or after surgery causes pain and/or numbness in the area.
- Tightness – Moving gets difficult and painful when your tissues are tight near the surgical site.
- Adhesions – Adhesions from fibrosis cause pain and inflammation and can set up a loss of joint or tissue function.
Is Your Incision Pain from Scar Tissue?
Most scar tissue is painless. Scars on your skin may just seem to have a thicker texture than the rest of your skin, but with no other difference. But some scar tissues cause pain.
Your physical therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy will determine if your pain is caused by scar tissue during your initial, comprehensive examination. If you wonder and want some more info before you come into the office, here are some symptoms of scar tissue problems.
- Sensitive to touch
- Lack of flexibility and range of motion
- Pops, creakiness, and crunchy feelings
Hidden scar tissue forms inside your body after your surgery, causing pain and stiffness. The pain and discomfort get worse when the scar tissue starts to affect your surrounding joints. Knee, hip, shoulder, or spinal scar tissue can make a massive difference in your quality of life. Also, scar tissue that forms after surgery on your face or abdominal surgery, like a hysterectomy, can cause a lot of pain, even if you can’t see the internal scars.
When Did Your Incision Start to Hurt?
Pain in an incision can start soon after your operation and persist for months after the surgery. But in some cases, it also happens that the pain doesn’t even start until months (or even years) after the initial operation.
As your nerves begin to heal after your surgery, they start to send messages to your brain as your scar forms, which can be painful. Nerves heal while the scars form, so you have 2 reasons for the pain!
How to Treat Pain in an Incision
The best way to treat pain at a healed incision site is to prevent it from happening.
- Moisturizing the site right from the beginning can help prevent external scar tissues from becoming an issue. Keeping scar tissue hydrated helps it form more uniformly. Scar creams and serums containing vitamin E or C are a good option to moisturize and reduce discoloration. Sunscreen may also be used to help prevent sunburns to scars.
- Massage in a circular pattern can help break up scar tissue, too. Your physical therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy knows how to get to the root of the issue. But self-massage helps a lot as well.
- Keep moving! The more you move around, the more you can prevent the area from tightening up.
It is quite normal to have some pain as you recover from surgery. But chronic, non-improving post-surgical pain lasting several months to a year needs a physical therapy evaluation to determine the cause of your pain. Your physical therapist will recommend a treatment plan to provide you relief and get you back to your pre-surgery self.
Here are some possibilities for how to treat your incision pain, even months after surgery.
- Revision surgeries use excisions or skin grafting, which may be a good option if you have significant aesthetic problems and pain. Still, it can lead to even more scarring.
- Topical serums for scar tissue containing the antioxidant vitamin E or C work well for minor scarring but seldom help much for painful incisions.
- An antihistamine cream may help if your scar is fairly new and itchy.
- Corticosteroid injections decrease inflammation and pain, working best for keloid or hypertrophic scars on the skin’s surface.
- Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections relax muscles, sometimes decreasing pain and discomfort.
- Adhesion barriers are gels or liquids that act as a preventative. These special bandages prevent adhesions after surgery by preventing your tissues from sticking together for less scar tissue development.
- Compression wraps around the affected area help relieve pain and often reduce the amount of scar tissue.
- Massage works wonders for scar tissue pain. Deep tissue mobilization and myofascial release techniques from your physical therapist help reduce inflammation and encourage ease of movement.
- A physical therapist helps you strengthen your muscles and joints so you can be more mobile. Physical therapy is especially helpful if you’ve had surgery on your back, abdomen, or limbs.
After any surgery, pain at the incision from scar tissue or nerve damage is a real possibility. A thorough assessment by an experienced physical therapist at Barkman & Smith Physical Therapy is the first step to getting relief. They will recommend a plan for how to treat your pain to help you break free and get on with your life. Contact us today!