• Question: How do muscle tissues in your body repair themselves?

    Asked by benhart13 to Anna, Jonathan, Mike, Samantha, Sam on 3 Jul 2012.
    • Photo: Michael East

      Michael East answered on 3 Jul 2012:

      Hi Ben,

      muscle tissues are unable to repair themselves fully. This is because no stem cells are available to generate more muscle tissue to replace that which has been lost. Instead the body fills the gap with scar tissue which is strong but unable to contract. Over the long term the remaining muscle fibres can pick up the slack by getting bigger. This is known as muscular hypertrophy. The muscle itself can therefore perform normally over time, even though complete repair has not taken place.

    • Photo: Sam Chilka

      Sam Chilka answered on 3 Jul 2012:

      Tissues in the body can repair by one fo two ways. Stem cells can generate new cells to replace the ones which are lost. Not all tissues contain stem cells though, and these tissues repair themselves by forming a scar. As Michael says, muscle tissues do not contain stem cells, and so muscle is repaired by creating a scar. This can be a big poblem, for example in the heart. After a heart attack, the heart muscle repairs itself by creating a scar. The wall of the heart in the area of scar is thinner than normal, and the scar doesn;t contract like heart muscle does, so if the scar is large this may lead to the heart not being able to pump blood properly – this is heart failure.

    • Photo: Jonathan Kay

      Jonathan Kay answered on 4 Jul 2012:

      There’s a lot of medical research at the moment that is trying to understand how bodies repair themselves. If we can understand that then we might be able to invent new treatments.

      Unborn babies don’t scar the same way that children and adults do. Did you know that we can now operate on babies before they are born?

    • Photo: Samantha Weaver

      Samantha Weaver answered on 4 Jul 2012:

      Your muscles heal very differently than your bones. If you fracture a bone, as long as it is set and fixed in place properly, it will tend to heal so thoroughly that it will become stronger than it was before the fracture!

      Bone tissue heals with calcium and other minerals, components of bone, in a process that creates a bond that is as strong or stronger than the original bone structure.

      Lloyd, for example, breaks his leg and strains (pulls) several muscles in a skiing accident. The fractured bone is set, his leg is placed in a cast, and after the requisite amount of time, the cast is removed. It’s as good as new or even better—the bone anyway…

      Your muscles however, do not actually heal with muscle tissue, but with “foreign” substances including collagen. The resulting scar tissue is weaker, less elastic, and highly prone to re-injury. Once a muscle is damaged, it can become the source of a great deal of pain.

      The standard medical response to muscular injuries is still mostly pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and rest. The medication does little more than numb the pain and suppress the inflammation. The symptoms are effectively reduced, but these are the symptoms of the injury—not the injury itself.

      Drugs can actually slow the healing process, and too much rest can be counterproductive as well, since muscle tissue needs a certain amount of movement as it heals, and will begin to atrophy (shrink) if not used.

      Unfortunately for Lloyd, the casting and immobilization of his leg, which was crucial for the proper healing of the bone, was not exactly what his injured muscles needed. Now over a year has past, including several months of vigorous physical therapy sessions, and x-rays show that the bone has completely healed and there are no other complications. Lloyd however, notices that although his injured leg seems to be just as strong as it was before the accident, it is nowhere near as flexible, and he finds himself in pain whenever he runs or cycles, two activities he was able to perform painlessly before the skiing accident.

      In order for a car to go forward properly, all of its tires need to be aligned in the same direction (unless it’s turning). In a similar manner, for your muscles to function properly, all of their fibers need to be aligned in the same direction.

      When you have a muscle that has been injured however, the initial repair process creates a “patch” of random scar tissue fibers.

      Like a weak link in a chain, the random alignment of these new fibers becomes a “weak link” in your muscle, leaving it highly susceptible to re-injury

      For an injured muscle to regain maximum strength and flexibility, the scar tissue needs to become aligned and integrated with the muscle fibers.

      Oddly, our bodies do not have an efficient internal mechanism for accomplishing this. It’s somewhat haphazard, gradually improving over time but often not resolving completely, which can become quite a problem.

      The problem is that the nervous system essentially “over reacts” to even microscopic areas of scar tissue, by keeping the muscle in a shortened, inflamed, and usually painful state.

      The inflammation process is the first stage of healing and by keeping the muscle short, the nervous system is trying to protect it from further harm, these reactions however, can continue well past the point of being productive—in fact they can continue indefinitely.

      Even a small muscular injury can lead to a chronic pain pattern which persists for months or even years, because the nervous “system stays on alert,” waiting for the scar tissue to heal completely and become aligned with the surrounding muscle tissue.

      Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a good example. This potentially career-ending injury begins with the tiniest of muscular injuries from performing a simple repetitive task like using a computer keyboard and mouse.

      By correcting (aligning and smoothing out) areas of scar tissue and other muscular irregularities, Soft Tissue Release breaks the muscular pain cycle at its root, accelerates the healing process, and restores muscular balance in a lasting way

      What happens to Lloyd? Eventually his wife, tired of listening to his complaining, hears about a new therapy from a friend and encourages him to try it. Lloyd goes in for several sessions of Soft Tissue Release and shortly begins to regain the flexibility he had lost and is soon able to run, cycle, and even ski again without pain.