My daughter’s birth story evokes complicated emotions. It was so far from my birth plan, it wasn’t even funny. After 32 hours of labour and a frankly-terrifying three hours on the operating table, she finally came into the world via a Caesarean delivery.
Fortunately, my recovery from the birth was swift. But even eight months later, I was still experiencing a tugging sensation at the incision site. I didn’t mind the way it looked, but I hated the way my scar felt: it was uncomfortable beneath the skin, like a callous. And my abdomen felt simultaneously overstretched, yet too tight.
I had already tried regular C-section scar massage at home, thanks to some Youtube tutorials that showed me how to stretch the scar using my fingers. Oils, lotions and balms were also ineffective. I wasn’t bothered enough to pursue costly or invasive treatments such as laser procedures, steroid injections, or bee stings (ahem, GOOP), but then I heard about Caesarean Scar Release Therapy, a quick, non-invasive treatment performed by a registered physiotherapist at a prenatal and postpartum wellness clinic in my neighbourhood. It seemed worth a try.
I figured even if I experienced no change to the scar, at least it was a precious hour to myself, a brief reprieve from my darling-but-currently-very-sassy, teething baby. And because it falls under the services of a registered physiotherapist, the $145 fee per visit was predominantly covered by my benefits plan.
Nav Grewal, a registered physiotherapist specializing in pelvic and women’s health at Yoga Mamas in Toronto, has been treating women using Cesarean Scar Release Therapy for the past three years, mostly through word of mouth referrals—a tip passed along from one C-section mama to another, which is how I first came to hear of it and decided to book an appointment with her.
What is Cesarean Scar Release Therapy?
Instead of using regular massage techniques—essentially manipulating the scar with their fingertips—practitioners who perform scar release therapy use Microcurrent Point Stimulation (MPS). The micro currents (also known as direct currents) release the thickened scar tissue, as well as the fascia and muscles impacted by the scarring. My pelvic physiotherapist, Grewal, showed me the handheld devices she uses: two Dolphin Neurostims, which look like ballpoint pens with oversized plastic casings. These devices are approved by Health Canada and the Federal Drug Administration to deliver the Microcurrent Point Stimulation. According to Acumed, the Etobicoke, Ont.-based company that developed The Dolphin Neurostim, they “electrically repolarize” the scar tissue.
What does C-section scar release feel like? Does it hurt?
If that sounds scary, it wasn’t—MPS is a little weird, but mostly painless. It’s more like a faint pin-prick sensation. My first appointment began with a brief medical history. Then Grewal checked me for diastasis recti, and led me through some simple exercises to gauge my mobility in my hips, pelvis, and back.
Next, the physio and I both felt my scar for a reference point. My incision was the common horizontal variety, just below my bikini line. Altogether about 4 inches long, the first inch was faint and smooth—almost imperceptible. The remaining length was pink and slightly raised to the touch, as though there was a piece of thin twine just under the skin.
For the treatment, Grewal simultaneously held one Dolphin to the skin just above my scar, and the other just below my scar, parallel to one another. Maintaining this parallel position, she worked her way along the length of the scar, spending 30 seconds at each half-inch section, and as she did, the Dolphin made intermittent high-pitched chirping sounds, reminiscent of a Star Trek Communicator.
Once she reached the midpoint of my scar, where it was a bit denser, I could feel a slightly warm sensation where the Dolphin connected with my skin, and afterwards I could see tiny red marks along the top and bottom of the scar, which faded by the next morning. She finished by placing one tool at each end of the scar lengthwise to send the current along the full length of the scar.
Grewal made two passes along my incision site, and then one vertical pass along my linea alba, the band separating both sides of the abdomen. This surprised me, since there was no incision there, or scarring that I was aware of. But she explained that the connective tissue of the abdomen is often damaged during a Cesarean delivery, when the abs are separated to reach the uterus. She cited this as a possible reason that my abdominals have felt overextended (especially while doing yoga stretches like cat-cow and backbends like cobra).
Finishing the treatment, Grewal asked me once again to feel my scar. “Release” is the perfect word to describe it. My lower abdomen had previously felt hard, as though permanently flexed, so it was unexpected when the scar gave easily when pressed. The next thing I noticed when applying pressure to the scar was that I had to pee, which made me realize that for the past seven months, I haven’t been able to truly feel my bladder. I’m also now aware that my breaths feel fuller, extending below my belly button when I inhale and exhale—a sensation I hadn’t felt since before the delivery.
Does Cesarean Scar Release Therapy really work?
While my scar was still visible after the first session, it did appear to be a more muted pink and the denser areas of the scar were detectably smaller. And the ridge above the scar (the small overhang of skin that I had read was a fact of life post-Caesarean) was 90 per cent smoothed out.
I found myself questioning if this was all too good to be true. But these results are actually pretty typical, Grewal tells me. She says she’s seen this treatment benefit scars from even 20 years ago. “I don’t even do scar massage anymore,” she told me, because it can’t rival the results attained using MPS. She advised me that I would continue to see, and feel, the scar release for about 24-36 hours, and then one additional half-hour follow-up appointment should be sufficient for me to achieve the full effects of the treatment. After that, I wouldn’t need to return.
Back at home, I continued to see positive change with my scar, and my movement in general felt freer. Lifting my daughter out of her crib no longer puts strain on my back, and my body feels like my body again.
I would never want to erase my daughter’s birth story, no matter how complicated, because it’s what brought her into the world. I am relieved, however, to erase and release the scar that was an uncomfortable physical reminder of that day.