How tattoos and scars impact pain, movement and performance!
If you’ve been checking out my content, you might have seen me do some weird things with the scars and tattoos of my athletes. Touching them, rubbing them, stabbing them, …
You might have also seen the crazy improvements in mobility and movement after applying stimulus to the giving areas. Why scars and tattoos can have a tremendous impact on our movement and pain signaling, I want to touch on in this article.
How does scar tissue and tattoos differ from normal skin tissue?
There are theories that wound healing is evolutionarily optimized for speed of healing under dirty conditions to prevent infection and death. Therefore, the mechanism of wound healing must be fast in order to protect the underlying tissues, but also at the same time regenerate the main functions of the skin. However, this may result in a scar that is functionally or visually inferior to normal skin.
Tattoo = scar tissue
Tattoo application uses a mechanized needle to puncture the skin and inject ink into the dermis or second layer of skin just below the epidermis. Since the process involves damaging the skin, the body also responds with wound healing mechanisms.
Which role does the skin have in neurological input to the brain?
There are differnt types of receptors that are located in the skin to process different kind of external impressions to the body:
chemoreceptors: stimulated by changes in the chemical concentration of substances.
nociceptors: stimulated by tissue damage.
thermoreceptors: stimulated by changes in temperature.
mechanoreceptors: stimulated by changes in pressure or movement.
photoreceptors: stimulated by light energy.
All stimuli are translated into electrical signals and sent to the brain.
How do scars and tattoos negatively affect our performance?
This is actually an area, where there’s a lot of speculation and the research is not 100% clear, yet I’ve seen crazy changes in the work on scar tissue, or on tattoos. People getting out of pain, improving their range of motion, strength output and much more.
The nociceptor theory…
The theory that makes most sense to me, is that changes in receptor INPUT, change movement OUTPUT. What I mean by that is that oftentimes in scar tissue, we find somewhat „overactive“ nociceptors (threat receptors), that signal danger to the brain. That danger leads to your brain not feeling safe, which impacts pain, movement and performance.
Once we then change receptor input, let’s say we stimulate mechanoreceptors, by applying pressure, or rubbing the scar - this will automatically decrease nociceptor action. Decreased nociceptor activity equals less threat to the brain:
Less threat perceived= more safety = better movement/performance.
Test it out on your own:
The best way to test how you might be affected by your scars, or tattoos is a quick before and after test.
How this works is super simple:
Test your range of motion by rotating your torso or bending forward.
Rub or apply pressure on the scar or tattoo for about 30 seconds with a foreign object (brush, pencil, … It can also just be another person, who creates the new stimulus)
Retest your movement and observe if your range of motion has changed
If that’s the case, congratulations, your scars/tattoos impact your brain. Keep applying stimulus multiple times a day and especially before working out, or doing any sports activity. You might find tremendous benefits by touching your scars.