Though Occupational Therapy can frequently be used as an alternative to surgery, it is more commonly used as a tool to help patients recover after a procedure. As technology improves, more and more conditions are being treated using tiny instruments arthroscopically, leading to smaller incisions and causing minimal scarring. However, some surgeries must be performed open, rendering larger scars unavoidable.
Whether your scar occurred from surgery, a burn or as part of a different injury, scar management as part of your occupational therapy program can be a helpful tool to help reduce the appearance of your scar and increase functionality that scarring can limit.
Scar Treatment by Your Therapist
There are a few different factors that affect how a scar looks and how it affects your mobility:
Where the scar is located can greatly affect recovery. Scars that appear closer to tendons, muscles and tissue can make range of motion more difficult, leading to additional stiffness.
Scars that are shaped oddly (usually due to an injury rather than surgery) can be aesthetically unpleasant and inconsistencies in the cut’s depth could cause the scar to be more discolored and raised in parts.
The scar itself and the surrounding skin can also become more sensitive, making the affected area uncomfortable to use. Considering many of the scars treated in Occupational Therapy appear on the hands, it is important to reduce pain and sensitivity so that the patient can maintain proper use of the hand.
During the course of Occupational Therapy treatment, your therapist will use different techniques to treat your scar based on where the scar is in the healing process:
- One of the most common OT scar treatments is a scar massage. Therapists will apply a cream such as cocoa butter, hydrating locations or Vaseline and will massage the scar in different paths. Scar massages are essential to prevent the scar skin from seizing, avoiding changes in skin texture, reducing sensitivity and allowing the scar to move in the same way the rest of your skin does.
- Various tapes or gel pads can be used to provide compression on scars. This technique adds pressure which helps to flatten the scar and soften the surrounding skin. Therapists typically recommend patients to wear compression items at home as well, usually overnight when they will be less bothersome. Motus offers silicone pads at our online store to assist with scar compression: TopiGel® Silicone Gel (SKU META-1151).
- Sometimes scars can be hypersensitive. Desensitization techniques are used to help make these scars less sensitive over time, providing relief for the patient. While desensitization is performed in office with an array of materials, your therapist will also recommend a desensitizing home routine, such as rubbing a soft material over your scar regularly for several minutes at a time, then building to more abrasive textures as they become more tolerable.
- Ultrasound machines are sometimes used in clinic to help heal scars during occupational therapy sessions. The micro-vibrations and heat given off while using an ultrasound machine can alter scar tissue and provide more flexibility. This allows the scar to have more mobility and be less noticeable over time.
Scar Massage at Home
Scar massages can be performed at home to help reduce healing time! To desensitize and reduce scar adhesions (so skin glides freely), rub the scar and surrounding skin in a circular motion with firm even pressure for at least 5 minutes 2-3 times daily. This can be done using your hands, a manual massager or an electric mini-massaging tool. Apply cocoa butter, vitamin E oil or hand lotion (preferably with lanolin in it) when performing scar massages to keep the skin moist. Do not use lotions containing rubbing alcohol as it can dry out the skin. Avoid open wounds, stitches or pins.
Massaging with an array of textures which are mildly uncomfortable but tolerable (ex: cotton, velvet, clothing, rug, hair…) will help to reduce sensitivity over time as well.
Mini-massagers or vibrators can help assist in the healing process at home. Vibration is often used for scars that are hypersensitive, helping to lower the sensitivity. You can find our recommended massager on our online store: Norco® Mini Vibrator (SKU NC70209). The massager comes with multiple attachments so be sure to use the one recommended by your therapist.
Another manual massaging tool is the Scar Tissue Massage Tool (SKU META-1172). This non-motorized stick helps to soften scars while massaging and decrease sensitivity.
To learn more about scar healing through occupational or physical therapy, contact our offices and schedule an appointment with one of our therapists!