How to Break up Scar Tissue?

If you’ve been exercising heavily for a long time, you might just have come to believe that there’s nothing you can do about the deeply seated aches and pains that sometimes occur in your muscles. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Some of these deep seated pains can be caused by the build-up of scar tissue which comes with the territory of being your physical best. We’re here to show you how to break up scar tissue and continue your athletic way of life unimpeded by this common problem.

How to Break Up Scar Tissue?

What You’ll Need

We’re going to show you a bunch of different ways to do things, starting with the lightest and working our way up to the hardest. There’s no reason to jump to expensive and painful specialized massages if you can handle things yourself after all, but here’s what you’ll need to get all the way through this guide:

  • A foam roller
  • A tennis ball
  • Someone trained in Active Release Technique(A.R.T.)
  • Legendary pain tolerance

Some might question the last of this list of items, but they’ve probably never gone through any of this. With the possible exception of the foam roller, all of these techniques are likely to hurt a pretty good amount. If you have an appreciable amount of damage… well, the foam roller probably isn’t going to cut it.

This is going to take time, and cause you a good bit of pain especially for your first couple of sessions. Be aware of it, but the lasting benefits of these techniques will help you feel better the rest of the time so the trade-off is definitely worth it.

1) Determine Where Your Problems Are

scar tissue

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine where your problem areas are. These will be different for everyone. We’re not just looking for the general area of the dull pain or restricted movement here, you need to poke around until you find spots of tissue that feel denser than their surroundings, once you’ve located these it’s time to determine a method to use.

The two techniques which are easiest and cheapest are using a tennis ball or a foam roller. Give these a shot before you go and spend the money on a masseuse. Foam rollers are great for extremities, and passable for your sides. Tennis balls, on the other hand, are much more useful for problems in your torso although they can also be used for smaller issues in your arms and legs.

Try to determine, to the best of your ability, where the problem is. This is, after all, an experience which will rely a lot on accuracy.

External scarring from large wounds or surgery, especially in the abdominal area, can also be a problem. Scarring is a protective, repairing response but our bodies sometimes work like a drunk mechanic and if the scar tissue runs at the wrong angle compared to the muscle fibers underneath it you might be having some issues. You can try using the same techniques here, but there’s no guarantee it will work.

Protip: The area might be tender, but you’ll need to probe pretty deeply to find the problem. This might hurt a bit, but you’re going to feel a lot better after you take care of the problem.

2) The Foam Roller

foam roller

Get your foam roller out now if you have trouble in your arms, legs, or back. Grit your teeth as well, because it’s time to get to work. Thankfully foam rollers are remarkably easy to use, and as far as the pain involved in these techniques go it’s fairly easy.

You’ll want to place the afflicted part of your body on the roller, and move your body part along it. This will target a fairly large area of the body and you can get a bit deeper by placing more pressure on it. If, for instance, your hamstrings are deeply afflicted and rolling both at the same time isn’t cutting it, you can try doing one leg at a time.

Foam rollers won’t cut it for truly deep scar tissue, but they make a great preventative technique. They’re especially useful for runners, but hardcore strength athletes are likely to want to go with another method due to the unique issues they may face.

Protip: Two or three sessions a week over your whole body is probably the best way to go about using your roller. This can help to catch problems before they start, and it’s a great idea to add it to your routine.

3) The Tennis Ball

tennis ball to fix scar tissue

If you’ve got truly deep issues, or if you have minor or major ones in areas where you can’t quite reach properly with a foam roller like the chest and shoulders, it’s time to break out the tennis ball. The slight amount of give and smaller surface area will allow you to penetrate more deeply and in a more targeted manner.

For your torso, arms, and legs it’s a fairly simple matter. Grab the ball, hold it firmly against the injured area with the palm of your hand and roll it in a circular motion while applying increasing pressure. It’s going to hurt, especially the first few times. It’s a great way to knead out knots without having to learn more advanced techniques just yet.

For your back and shoulders, things are a little bit more complicated. Unless you have long arms and good shoulder flexibility, you’re probably going to want to lie down for this one. Use the floor to hold the ball, lift your body just a touch and move yourself in the same circular motion you used for the rest of your body. The lower back and shoulders can be particularly painful areas, but keep at it.

Walls are also a good way to get those hard to reach areas, simply place the ball between the wall and your afflicted body part and you’ll be able to easily roll it out.

Protip: Frequency is important, you might want to start doing this three or four nights a week. The best part about the tennis ball is you can use it while sitting on the couch watching TV for the most part, which makes it easy and doesn’t cut into your leisure time.

4.) Self-Applied Active Release Technique

Did you read the article we mentioned in the “What You’ll Need Section” above? If not, go do it now, because this step is what separates the boys from the men.

A.R.T. is a highly-specialized form of deep tissue massage. It can also be extremely painful to undergo, so keep that pain tolerance handy. If the roller and tennis ball aren’t helping you sort out the mobility and pain issues you’re facing, this is the next step up from those.

The smaller the area you’re applying pressure with, the deeper you’ll be able to get and your fingertips make a tennis ball look like a gigantic, clumsy device. You can also knead with them and move them in a lot of ways you simply won’t be able to achieve with other methods.

It’ll take a while to get the hang of it, and it’s definitely a harder study than other techniques but for the serious strength athlete it’s almost essential. Frequency is still important, so get into a routine and do it a few times a week. The pain will lessen with repetition, and it’s the best way you’ll find to be able to treat yourself.

5) Find a Professional With A.R.T. Certification

a.r.t professional

If you’re not able to do it to yourself properly, or if you’re still having issues with no sign of things getting better after a few weeks of self-applied A.R.T. it’s time to go with the nuclear option. That is to say, you want to find a professional who has the training.

The A.R.T. certification isn’t an easy one to attain, it’s not a weekend course. There are hundreds of different motions that they employ and the experts understand muscle anatomy very well. They’re also not you, so they’ll be able to plow through your pain tolerance without discomfort on their part.

These experts can be hard to find, and expensive to utilize so keep that in mind. Fortunately the governing body of the technique has a database which will easily allow you to find one near you.

Protip: Shop around a bit, and see if you can find reviews. As with any form of “alternative” therapy the efficacy of the service provider can vary quite a bit. Don’t skimp on budget if you’re in serious pain, the benefits are enormous.


We hope we’ve helped you outline a strategy which can help you sort out the issues that intramuscular scar tissue can create. There’s a strategy for every problem that may arise during our training, and it’s always a good idea to use preventative measures after handling the problem.

Take these simple steps, and you’ll be on your way back to those easy, pain-free workouts of your earlier days. It will be painful, but we didn’t get into this game because we wanted to make things easy, did we?

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