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If you’re unlucky enough to bare the burden of a knee injury, you may have experienced pain and tenderness for weeks, months, or even years afterward.

But why the pain and discomfort for that long? After all, the soft tissues healed, right?

The answer may be down to scar tissue. But what is scar tissue, and what does knee scar tissue feel like?

If scar tissue forms in an injured joint, there can be a whole array of symptoms associated with it.

Despite a successful recovery and return to daily activities (perhaps even healing from an open wound if the injury was that type), the tissues in the knee joint may heal with scarring around it.

Scar tissue in the knee joint can be considerably uncomfortable, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and other issues that might stop your ability to move as usual.

In this post, I’ll share what I know about how knee scar tissue feels, why it develops in the knee joint, the types of scar tissue that can form around the knee, treatment options available, and what to expect during analysis and diagnosis of scar tissue.

What does knee scar tissue feel like?

What is knee scar tissue?

Let’s let out the elephant in the room! So, knee scar tissue.

What actually is it? 

In short, it’s a fibrous tissue created by the body’s response to an injury.

Scar tissue is made up of collagen fibers that form to protect the wounded tissue, kind of like wearing padding to protect yourself if you’re riding a motorcycle.

The formation of scar tissue depends on the harshness of the injury and how well it healed in the first instance.

In many cases, excessive scar tissue occurs by default, as it would with any deep wound or cut to the skin.

When we’re talking about joints, however, scar tissue can cause various issues, from generic knee pain or damaged nerve endings to a reduced range of motion and difficulties with mobility.

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How does scar tissue develop?

Scar tissue in the knee happens due to traumatic injuries, surgeries, aging, and overuse, say in sports or the gym, for years on end.

When a traumatic injury is healing, collagen fibers form around healthy cells to help repair the damaged tissue and create a protective covering.

These fibers bind together as they heal, forming scar tissue that acts like a “bandage” over the affected area.

Types of scar tissue

The type of scarring that develops is not a surefire thing – meaning you may have one type of scar tissue or many types in the same area.

But this is a brief look at some types of scar tissue that may be found in a knee joint injury that hasn’t healed to an ideal standard.

  • Hypertrophic scars are thickened bands of skin that occur after an injury or surgical procedure.
  • Keloid scars are raised and irregularly shaped from too much collagen in the skin.
  • Contracture scars result from excessive collagen buildup from deep wounds or severe burns – these are the scar themselves building up more and more scar tissue.

In some cases, too much scar tissue in the knee joint may lead to arthrofibrosis (stiff knee syndrome).

This condition limits your range of motion to an extreme level, causing chronic pain in the joint capsule.

Treatment options

There are options for treating scar tissue in the knee joint if properly diagnosed and assessed beforehand.

The difficulty is that, in reality, diagnosing scar tissue comes way down the line of treatment importance in the public sector.

You may need to find a private doctor who’ll help you out if you can’t get public services to act on your behalf.

Non-surgical treatments of scar tissue in the knee include physical therapy, topical therapies, massage and aromatherapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Medical doctors often recommend these treatments to reduce symptoms of pain and stiffness.

In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be given to reduce inflammation and prevent further scar tissue development.

Surgery, too, is sometimes discussed for severe cases of scar tissue formation.

The best treatment depends on the individual’s medical condition and symptoms in every case.

A physical examination by an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist is often needed to determine the cause of the problem before starting a treatment plan.

In some cases, arthroscopic surgery can be performed using a tiny camera to remove excess scar tissue or repair internal structures in the knee joint before initiating other treatments. In severe cases, knee replacement surgery can also be employed to alleviate the negative symptoms of arthritis.

Ultimately, it’s important to discuss any and all treatment options open to you with your healthcare provider before making decisions about your care plan.

Make sure you share your desired outcome with your doctor so they can help you reach that goal, too. They can guide you on what’s best for sure.

What to expect from scar tissue treatment

It’s important to remain level-headed and see the treatment and/or recovery from scar tissue as a journey, not a destination.

Sounds cliche, I know, but there really is no set answer to ‘what to expect’.

Recovering from knee scar tissue can be a lengthy journey, for sure, but with the proper knowledge and understanding, you can manage the pain, swelling, and inflammation to make your life more pleasant.

Physical therapy is often the first go-to for any scar tissue diagnosis.

It provides exercises that strengthen muscle groups surrounding the injury, while helping restore movement in the affected knee.

Pain relief options can also include medication, cold therapy, ultrasound/sonic treatment, and even massage therapy for dealing with stubborn collagen fibers that form scar tissue.

In more severe cases like contracture scars or arthrofibrosis of the knee (severe stiffness), anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain and swelling.

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Healing Exercises

There are a number of exercises one can do which are suitable for reducing scar tissue buildup in the knee joint, including exercises focusing on building your range of motion, stretching exercises, pilates, and sports massage.

Remember topical applications, such as massage therapy, vitamin E oil, and silicone sheets too.

And the age-old prescription of rest and renewal. Scar tissue has a habit of spreading if you work the area too hard, so rest is imperative.

Rest the affected knee as much as possible while continuing with the prescribed treatment plan.

I do hope you found this post valuable.

If you’d like to read more of my posts, check out this one next.

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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