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Break Up Tissue Adhesions With Friction Massage


For individuals having difficulty moving or functioning normally due to injury, surgery, or illness, can a chiropractic and physical therapy team help expedite recovery?

Break Up Tissue Adhesions With Friction Massage

Friction Massage

Individuals may develop scar tissue or tissue adhesions that limit normal motion after injury or surgery. A pain management team may use various treatments and modalities and may incorporate friction massage as part of a rehabilitation treatment plan. Friction massage, also known as transverse friction or cross friction massage, is a technique used to help improve scar tissue and adhesion mobility to move better and decrease the negative effects. The therapist uses their fingers to massage the scar in a direction that is at right angles to the scar line. It is a specialized technique that breaks up tissue adhesions that are limiting normal movement in the skin and underlying tissues. (Haris Begovic, et al., 2016)

Scar Tissue and Adhesions

For individuals who require surgery due to an injury or an orthopedic condition, their doctor will cut into the skin, tendons, and muscle tissue during the operation. Once sutured and healing has begun, scar tissue forms. Healthy tissue is made up of collagen that is comprised of cells that are arranged in a regular pattern. Healthy collagen is strong and can resist forces when tissues are pulled and stretched. (Paula Chaves, et al., 2017)

During the healing process after an injury, the collagen cells are laid down in a haphazard pattern and form scar tissue. The random accumulation of cells becomes tight and does not react well to tension and stretching forces. (Qing Chun, et al., 2016) The body can form scar tissue after a soft tissue injury, like a muscle or tendon strain. (Qing Chun, et al., 2016)

If a muscle or tendon gets strained the body will generate new collagen during the healing. The new collagen is laid down in a random fashion, and scar tissue or tissue adhesions can form that can limit the normal range of motion. Healthy tissue stretches and glides as the body moves. Scar tissue is rigid. At the site of the scar tissue, there can be some movement, but it is tight, less pliable, and can be painful. If scar tissue or adhesions are limiting motion, cross-friction massage can improve tissue gliding and sliding. This process is referred to as remodeling.

Massage Objectives

The objectives and goals of friction massage to adhesions or scar tissue may include:

  • Stimulation of nerve fibers to decrease and relieve pain.
  • Increase blood circulation to the tissues.
  • Working the affected tissue to break up scarring.
  • Collagen fibers tissue realignment.
  • Improve mechanoreceptor activity.

Massage Technique

Friction massage treatment follows a specific technique: (Paula Chaves, et al., 2017)

  • The entire area of scar tissue or adhesion should be treated.
  • If the scar tissue is in a muscle, it should be relaxed.
  • If the scar tissue is in a tendon sheath, that tendon should be slightly stretched during the procedure.
  • The therapist places two or three fingers over the scar or adhesion and moves their fingers perpendicular to the scar to smooth the collagen fibers down.
  • The fingers and underlying tissues move together.
  • The massage should feel deep and uncomfortable but not painful.
  • There may be some pain, but should remain within the individual’s tolerance.
  • If the massage is too painful, less pressure may be used.
  • After several minutes the therapist will assess the tissue mobility.
  • Specific stretches may be done to elongate the scar tissue or adhesions.
  • At-home exercises and stretches may be prescribed to maintain flexibility.


There are situations where friction massage should not be used and can include: (Paula Chaves, et al., 2017)

  • Around an active open wound.
  • If there is a bacterial infection.
  • Areas with decreased sensation.
  • If calcification is present in the muscle or tendon tissue.

The therapist will explain the procedure and inform of the goals and risks associated with it.

Diagnoses Treated

Diagnoses that can be treated with friction massage can include: (Paula Chaves, et al., 2017)

  • Muscle tears or strains.
  • For tendonitis or tendinopathy.
  • After a tendon tear.
  • Adhesive capsulitis in the shoulder/frozen shoulder.
  • Joint contracture.
  • Ligament tears.
  • Scar tissue buildup after surgery or trauma.

Friction massage is a popular technique used in physical therapy, but some research suggests it is not any more effective than other rehabilitation techniques. One study found that static stretches and exercises were more effective than massage in improving tissue length and strength in uninjured soccer players. Other studies have supported this, but individuals may find that the massage helps improve injured tissues’ movement as well. (Mohammed Ali Fakhro, et al. 2020)

The main goal of any treatment in physical therapy is to help the individual regain movement and flexibility. Friction massage, combined with targeted stretches and exercises, can help individuals expedite recovery and get back to normal.

Chiropractic Care After Accidents and Injuries


Begovic, H., Zhou, G. Q., Schuster, S., & Zheng, Y. P. (2016). The neuromotor effects of transverse friction massage. Manual therapy, 26, 70–76. doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2016.07.007

Chaves, P., Simões, D., Paço, M., Pinho, F., Duarte, J. A., & Ribeiro, F. (2017). Cyriax’s deep friction massage application parameters: Evidence from a cross-sectional study with physiotherapists. Musculoskeletal science & practice, 32, 92–97. doi.org/10.1016/j.msksp.2017.09.005

Chun, Q., ZhiYong, W., Fei, S., & XiQiao, W. (2016). Dynamic biological changes in fibroblasts during hypertrophic scar formation and regression. International wound journal, 13(2), 257–262. doi.org/10.1111/iwj.12283

Fakhro, M. A., Chahine, H., Srour, H., & Hijazi, K. (2020). Effect of deep transverse friction massage vs stretching on football players’ performance. World journal of orthopedics, 11(1), 47–56. doi.org/10.5312/wjo.v11.i1.47

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The information herein on "Break Up Tissue Adhesions With Friction Massage" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
Texas DC License # TX5807, New Mexico DC License # NM-DC2182

Licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN*) in Florida
Florida License RN License # RN9617241 (Control No. 3558029)
License Compact Status: Multi-State License: Authorized to Practice in 40 States*
Presently Matriculated: ICHS: MSN* FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner Program)

Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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