Living With a Surgical Scar

Your feelings may change over time

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Surgical scars are fairly common, and it is hard to predict how long they will last or whether they will cause symptoms. Most surgical scars fade over time, but some can last for a whole lifetime. Coping with your surgical scar involves addressing the emotional effects, using practical strategies to manage the physical consequences, and preparing for the social implications of your scar.

A surgical leg scar
Getty Images / Westend61

Emotional 

The emotional aspects of having a surgical scar can range from feeling a sense of success that you survived surgery to feeling anger, shame, or sadness at the reminder of your surgery.

These feelings can have a lot to do with your overall emotional state even before your surgery, but they are also related to the reason you had surgery and whether you feel that you suffered any type of injustice associated with your procedure. 

If thinking about, seeing, or feeling your own surgical scar causes you to become distressed, it is important that you seek help and support to help manage your emotional turmoil.

There may be some things in your past that you need to deal with so you can move forward. And if your surgical scar makes you unhappy because it is a reminder of an ongoing disease, professional intervention can help guide you to a healthy way of managing your distress.

Children 

The emotional implications of a surgical scar can be different for children than they are for adults. Children may not be familiar with the weight of stigma in the same way as adults, but they may deal with variations in physical appearance differently as they are still learning what is “normal” and what isn’t.

For these reasons, children’s emotional concerns about their own scars can benefit from the guidance of a professional who is familiar with and sensitive to the concerns of children.

Physical 

Your scar can be visible, and it can cause sensory changes. The visible signs may include discoloration and/or textural changes in the skin. These changes can vary in size. If you want to hide your surgical scar, you can consider covering your noticeable scarring with clothes if that is a practical approach for you.

Makeup can help minimize the appearance of a surgical scar if it is located on a part of your body that you don’t want to cover with clothes. You could try experimenting with makeup on your own, you could watch video tutorials, or you could get advice from a makeup expert. Makeup techniques may differ for men and women and for people of different ages based on style preferences and customs. 

Scar creams may be useful for some people as a method help fade the appearance of a surgical scar. And covering your surgical scar with a tattoo may be a consideration for you as well.

Sensory Changes

You may also have some physical consequences of your scar that go beyond appearance. Sometimes a surgical scar can be bumpy and it may feel different when you touch it. Your sensation can be impaired in the area of your scar and around it.

You might feel numb in the area of your scar, or you can experience hypersensitivity or paresthesia (unusual sensations) in the area of your scar. If these issues are distressing to you, discuss them with your doctor.

Topical pain medication can help alleviate discomfort or pain, and if the pain is severe, oral treatments or injections used for treating pain control may be considered. 

Social 

The social implications of your surgical scar might be a concern for you. Scars can be sensitive topics of discussion. You may want to hide your scar in public to avoid talking about your surgery, or you might feel comfortable with people seeing it. 

If you don’t want to discuss your surgery or your scar, be sure to plan ahead and take the steps needed to cover your scar with clothes or makeup when you don’t want it to be seen.

Creating a routine for yourself can help you venture out in public while avoiding social anxiety. Keep in mind that you are entitled to privacy and it is important to accept your own decision about hiding or showing your scar.

However, many people feel comfortable exposing their surgical scars and even talking about their medical condition, and you may be among those who want to share your experience with others.

In some work situations, openly talking about the issue can give you a way to effectively explain your own physical limitations when you are working in collaboration with others.

In some social settings, discussing your surgical scar can help people get to know you and may make you less intimidating and more accessible.

Photos 

Your scar can look different in photos than it does in person. Keep this in mind as you pose for photos, whether you want to hide or show your scar. 

Children 

Children can be sensitive about peer judgment. And most children say things or react in ways that reflect their instinctive reaction. If your child has an obvious surgical scar, consider talking with your child about when and how they should discuss it with friends, classmates, or teammates.

Preparing your child for these challenging conversations can help reduce the fear that peers might have. You and your child might benefit from talking with an experienced professional who can help guide this process. 

Practical 

Some practical solutions for dealing with scars include making sure that you avoid irritation of your scar. Fabrics, sun exposure, or chemical contact can harm your skin or cause pain or discomfort in the area of your scar. Depending on the location of your scar, this can mean paying attention to where the edges of your clothes lie.

For example, if you have a scar on your neck or the upper part of your chest, you might experience skin irritation from necklines that land on your scar. To avoid this, you could select clothes that don’t cross over or line up or with your scar—either covering you scar completely or keeping it fully uncovered.

Your scarred skin may be especially sensitive to sunburn. Sunscreen can be very important when your scar may be exposed to the sun.

And sometimes, chemicals, such as those in cleaners or lotions, can be irritating to the skin in the area of a surgical scar. Be careful to avoid these types of exposures.

Medical Intervention

If your scar is causing severe distress, medical or surgical treatment may change its appearance. Massage techniques have been used to help treat scars, as well as surgical scar revision. Discuss your options with your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Your own relationship with your surgical scar may change over time. You may never feel comfortable exposing it or discussing it, and that is your choice. And you may feel perfectly fine showing your scar in some settings, but not others. Learning to cope with your surgical scar is an important part of your recovery after surgery.

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