Of the hundreds of thousands of people who choose (or are forced to) the gallbladder surgery route, many do not actually get a complete rundown of what may or may not happen after the procedure. Majority of patients expect to be completely well after the problematic organ has been taken out. Yet, very few know the risks of having symptoms after giving up the gallbladder. One of those is the possibility of pain from scar tissue.
There is a wide spectrum of manifestations and underlying causes for post-operative symptoms. Some of the common ones include Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction, common bile duct stones, bile duct injuries, gastrointestinal disorders, pancreatic diseases, or other pre-existing conditions such as gastritis or food sensitivities. Gallbladder scar tissue pain is just one of the many possible sources of discomfort.
Pain from Scar Tissue
Whether a laparoscopic cholecystectomy or open surgery was employed in taking out the gallbladder, scar tissue pain is inevitable during recovery and the healing process varies from person to person. Aching around the incision site or abdominal discomfort from the gas used to inflate the belly is normal. Unfortunately, some patients still feel terrible even weeks or months after the operation. The symptoms can be similar to a gallbladder attack – pain in the upper right side of the torso, behind the rib cage, and can radiate through to the upper back. To some though, it’s just a dull pinching pain that is more of a distraction and inconvenience.
Upon consultation with a medical practitioner and undergoing a CT scan or laparoscopy, it may be confirmed whether the pain is caused by a scar or something else. If it is indeed scarring, it may be that the scar has caused an adhesion with other organs near the operation site or that it has caused blockage within the GI system. Scar tissues can also cause pain by squeezing or pulling small skin nerves.
What Causes a Scar Tissue?
Numerous things can cause a scar. It can be from accidental injuries like burns, scrapes, bites, scratches; or intentional actions like body piercings, injections, and tattoos. For some it can be brought about by allergies, diseases or infections. In the case of gallbladder patients, it is caused by the surgical incision during cholecystectomy.
Scar tissue formation is part of our body’s natural healing process. When there is damage to a skin layer, whether it is external or internal, the body forms new collagen that makes up fibrous connective tissues to mend the damage. Scar tissue formation is made up of complex cellular processes happening in three phases – inflammatory, fibroplastic repairing, and remodelling.
Three Phases of Scar Tissue Formation
The degree of scar tissue that forms is directly related to the amount of inflammation that happens in phase one. So taking short-term anti-inflammatory drugs (if your doctor agrees) or longer term herbal anti-inflammatories such as serrapeptase (see below) and using castor oil packs as soon as possible, could have some impact on reducing the amount of scarring you end up with. And remember, scars are not just above the surface! It is what is below the surface that tends to cause the pain.
Phase One – Inflammation
Inflammation begins with the first cut. The immune system immediately reacts to the foreign invasion of a scalpel and initiates the inflammation phase which is characterized by swelling, redness, warmth and pain. The swelling and redness may actually be occurring beneath the skin’s surface but the pain will be apparent and it will be constant. This phase lasts at least 3 days. When the pain is better with change of position, the healing process has advanced to phase two.
Phase Two – Repair
The body goes to work here to put down new tissue. The hormones or chemicals brought to the site during inflammation include fibroblasts. These cells lay down new connective tissue to regenerate the injury, filling up the holes or tears in the injured tissues. It is this filler that causes scarring. Since this repair phase can last from 6-8 weeks, you won’t know really how it feels until this process is done. I suggest castor oil packs for 3 consecutive days a week for the 6-8 weeks. It is also important to be moving during this time and since there is no joint involvement, the only way to move would be to do some gentle massage in the area of the scars.
Phase Three – Remodeling
Remodeling or maturation lasts for at least 6 months and can take from one to two years depending on the extent and the site of the injury. But regardless of the injury, movement is a very essential part of the healing process in this phase. For someone on the abdomen, as opposed to a joint, for example, this would involve abdominal exercises as well as massaging the site of the scar tissue. Sometimes the pain can become chronic and last for years.
Scar Tissue Removal and Treatment Options
Treatment for scar tissue may vary depending on the extent of adhesion formation and the problems it is causing. If it is leading to an abdominal blockage, it may require an emergency surgery. In some cases though, doctors may treat symptoms rather than perform another surgery because another procedure just increases the risk of more scarring and more complications. Other invasive procedures include injection of intralesional corticosteroids, laser treatment, and radiation. Less aggressive methods that may be used include the prescription of antibiotics, pain medication, IV fluids, and other non-invasive methods. This is often used if the adhesion or scar is expected to improve on its own. Below are some of the natural and conservative methods:
To help speed up the healing of incision sites, minimize the unhealthy build-up of scar tissue and reduce prominent old scars, serratiopeptidase (also known as serrapeptase) may be used. This form of systemic enzyme produced by silkworms digests excess fibrin in the body. Fibrin protein creates scar tissues and may be harmful if too much is deposited in joints, fractures, and wounds as they are healing. This protein can also decrease tissue permeability, creating barriers that may prevent the absorption of much-needed nutrients around the injured area. For old scars, serratiopeptidase can also be powerful enough to slowly digest scar tissue away over time. Serratiopeptidase is also an effective anti-inflammatory agent; it helps prevent swelling and constriction of blood vessels.
For quality serratiopeptidase enzyme supplement, Sunergetic offers the Serrapeptase Enzymes Formula with 40,000 SU of the enzyme. Each capsule uses the innovative technology called DRcaps® to help provide maximum absorption and bioavailability as it journeys through the digestive system. Although the indicated dosage is only one capsule a day taken on an empty stomach, some say that they get faster results with higher doses. It is best to consult with your health practitioner if you plan to work your way up.
Kineseology taping is one of the relatively new conservative methods of treatment for scar tissue including post-surgical scars. It is believed to reduce inflammation and increase lymphatic flow. The use of kinesio tape also facilitates better remodeling by reducing mechanical tension acting on the scar. It makes use of a special kind of tape to stretch a scar tissue after it has been deemed safe by a medical practitioner. In surgeries, full healing of incision and soft tissue may take place between 4 to 6 weeks.
The advantage of using kinesio tape for post-surgical scars is that you can still apply it in difficult areas such as the neck, face or joints. This does not impede functional movement and muscle stimulation while still providing enough pressure and support.
Not all doctors are experienced or familiar with this method of scar management. It is therefore important to get a good physical therapist or medical practitioner to teach you how to do it yourself.
Myofascial release done by an experienced physical therapist or osteopath may help keep the adhesions pliable. Although some people choose to have deep tissue massage, some patients attest that it may be too aggressive and may make things worse by causing trauma or inflammation. On the other hand, myofascial release is believed to improve blood and lymphatic circulation, while stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles. This makes it a good option for the management of adhesions and scar tissue pain.
Acupuncture has been known for centuries to be helpful for the removal of scar tissue. The chi or energy gets stopped at the point of the scar tissue creating a blockage. Needles are used to move the chi. The method involves needling at both ends of the scar tissue at the surface level. And if it is a long scar, needles may be used along the length of the scar as well. Electro stim therapy may or may not be employed.
The adhesions that build up below the surface at the surgical site create the same blockage and can also be helped with acupuncture. Needling in this case will be done at a lower depth, surrounding or directly into the scar. Acupuncture also addresses scar tissue pain by relieving the stagnation and pressure.
The insertion of something foreign into the body, i.e. needles, elicits a reaction from the body’s immune system in the local area, bringing macrophages (or white blood cells) to eat up the unwanted dead cells.
Castor Oil Packs
Another natural way to remove scars and treat scar tissue pain naturally is through the use of castor oil packs. Although this may not be a popular option among western doctors, castor oil has served multiple purposes for centuries recorded in documents from ancient Egypt. They help increase circulation, reduce pain, support detoxification and speed up the overall healing process. Castor oil packs come in handy just to get rid of the physical discomfort but they could also help to smooth out some of the fibrous tissue that can be bothersome. Regular use may make scars less noticeable.
Since they are so effective in helping treat various symptoms and resolve health issues, not just scar tissue pain, we have dedicated a whole webpage for castor oil packs and how they are used. See for yourself and enjoy the healing benefits!