Scar tissue in the neck is often implicated as the causation of chronic pain, tightness and possible neurological symptoms. While the build-up of scarring can certainly cause problems, the diagnostic theory of pathological scar tissue can also be a cop-out medical conclusion labeled onto patients who have not responded to a profitable variety of seemingly indicated care practices. We have heard it said a thousand times: “Sorry Mr. Patient, our treatments have only failed due to the build-up of scar tissue in the region. There is nothing else we can do.”
This essay helps to separate fact from fiction when it comes to problematic scar formation in and around the anatomy of the cervical spine and surrounding musculature.
What is Scar Tissue in the Neck?
Scars form from significant or serious injury and are an inherent part of the healing process. However, most scarring enables healing, while some scarring is actually problematic. Scars can exist in the skin, in other soft tissues, such as muscles, ligaments and tendons, in bone and even in neurological tissues. Any living cell in the body can be scarred.
Scars can prevent normal movement and might make an area particularly susceptible to pain. However, scars can also numb an area and make it virtually unfeeling in totality. There is no way to be sure how an individual scar will affect the body simply by looking at it. Instead, the patient must be clinically examined and testing must be performed to determine if scarring may be partially or wholly responsible for any discomfort or neurological expressions that are being suffered regionally.
Causes of Scar Tissue
When we think of scarring, most of us immediately turn our thoughts to traumatic injury. This is wise, since damage to the neck can indeed cause scarring at every level of the anatomy. Neck injury can lead to scarring in the skin, in the muscles, in the connecting tissues, in the skeletal structures and in the nerves themselves. However, there are also other possible causes of scar formation in the cervical spinal anatomy:
Repetitive strain injury, also known as RSI, is a major contributor to scar formation. However, the diagnostic theory of RSI has come under fire as of late, since many physicians tend to see minor and repetitive injury to tissues as possibly constructive, rather than the traditional view of it being pathological. One merely has to look at the physical fitness arena to see all the proof of constructive repetitive injury that one will ever need. After all, the very manner in which we build muscle mass, and increase strength, is to slightly damage existing muscle tissues in order to elicit a healing response and the production of more cells. This is basic biological science at work. So, why then would this same idea be used to justify pain from the exact same types of minor injuries sustained by tissue over time? The answers are all very unclear and controversial at this point.
Meanwhile, one of the most prevalent causations of neck scarring is certainly overlooked in the public eye. This is ironic, since it is also the type of scarring that damages the deepest tissues and that which affects neurological fibers more than any other possible variety. This type of scar tissue in the neck is the direct result of surgical treatment. Neck surgery is certainly helpful in some regards, but can also cause anatomical damage in obscene amounts. Personally, I have seen thousands of actual patient cases in which the person suffered the barbarism of a spinal surgery, with the hope of healing some structural condition, only to suffer exacerbated symptoms postoperatively. In many instances, this pain was blamed on scar tissue formation, since it certainly could not be conceded to be from any of the other primary actual causes of failed neck surgery, including misdiagnosis and iatrogenesis.
In a few cases, the conclusion of troublesome scarring might be correct. But, in most, this theory is offered to justify the utter failure of multiple conservative and surgical therapies and to insulate the caregivers against the legal action that should justifiably be brought against them.
Scar Tissue in the Neck Experiences
We really can not tell you how many patients write to us and provide a vivid history of diagnostic eclecticism, eventually ending with the game-ender conclusion of “scar tissue”. Doctors have strung them along for years, or even decades, revising their diagnosis until the patient has reached a critical mass of chronic pain that will not respond to any type of care. At this stage, the doctor proverbially throws up their hands and says that the symptoms are now due to scar tissue, despite all the other ills being cured. “There is nothing more we can do” is the usual summary judgment given. This is unacceptable. Furthermore, it is usually an outright lie. There is rarely evidence of pathological scar tissue, just an impatient physician who has already milked the cash cow for all it is worth and is simply tired of the bothersome phone calls complaining of ongoing pain.
Does it mean that scar tissue can not cause pain? Of course not. This article is meant as an eye-opener for patients who fit 2 main profiles:
The first type of patient listened to a doctor who simply could not be bothered anymore providing treatment and has since resigned themselves to a life of drug-induced haze to combat the pain. They accepted scar tissue as the truth of their pain, often without proof of it even existing. In these cases, please get a few more opinions. At least be sure to demand conclusive proof of the so-called scarring and a logical explanation of why it is causing the diversity of pain you now endure each and every day.
The second type of patient is one who also accepts that scar tissue is the cause of their pain, but does not think to tell there doctor that it was the recommended surgery that caused the scarring and subsequent pain. Hold them accountable for what they did to you. Do not allow them to misdiagnose you, butcher you and then say that the results of the atrocity are beyond their control. Once again, get a new opinion and if surgical scarring is indeed found to be the source of present suffering, we advise pursuing every effort at attaining justice for the pain you have been caused.