Did you know that most babies are born in August? In fall and winter months, new mothers may be thinking about self-care, and wondering about stretch marks. Of course, stretch marks are not exclusive to mothers. What are stretch marks? What kind of treatment helps rebuild stretched tissue? Read on to discover answers to these questions, and more.

What are Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks occur as the body expands to accommodate changing dimensions, such as during pregnancy. A stretch mark appears where connective tissue breaks down. The epidermis, dermis, and superficial fascia of the skin is stretched more quickly than the epithelial tissue can adjust, causing an elongated section. Just as an inflating balloon thins as it fills with air, rapid expansion causes skin to thin and change color. The skin’s surface may be streaked with pink, brown, red, or purple marks.

About 75% of women who have experienced pregnancy will develop stretch marks. Genetics influence whether a woman will experience stretch marks—if your mother and sister had stretch marks during pregnancy, chances are you will, too. The size and number of babies in a pregnancy also influences one’s chances for stretch marks. Finally, women who tend to put on weight rapidly or carry extra amniotic fluid are more liable to have stretch marks. Lymphedema and general weight gain may also cause stretch marks.

How Massage Therapy Heals Stretch Marks

Like scars and burns, stretch marks are living tissues which can become healthier with self-care. This flies in the face of the common notion that stretch marks are permanent. With consistent self-care, including massage, stretch marks can be minimized.

Massage increases circulation. More blood available to tissue equates to better cellular nutrient delivery and waste removal. This, in turn, promotes tissue growth, potentially decreasing the visibility of stretch marks. Scar tissue, including stretch marks, often has limited lymph return and blood supply, meaning that it is especially benefited by increased circulation via regular massage therapy. Therapist and educator Pete Whitridge’s research suggests that massage encourages the development of new blood vessels, causing temporary inflammation followed by remodeling.

Excellent skin care can diminish the appearance of stretch marks, regardless of whether the skin is stretching for pregnancy, weight gain, or lymphedema. Hydrating creams and oils can deeply nourish scarred skin; cocoa butter and shea butter are especially well suited to this purpose. Likewise, tamanu, avocado, and rose hip seed oil are good carrier oils for restorative massage work. Self-care can include applying these oils and/or butters to the affected tissue to trigger ongoing remodeling. Gentle pulling and manipulation of the stretch marks will help trigger ongoing angiogenesis and remodeling.

For those who would like to avoid stretch marks in the first place, dry-brushing may decrease their likelihood. To dry brush, use a natural fiber brush or natural jute glove to gently massage a client’s arms, legs, and belly, using slow, circular motions. (Dry-brushing is not recommended on breast tissue.) Dry-brushing increases lymphatic drainage while also exfoliating skin. When followed up with deep hydration, dry brushing can improve the appearance of all blemishes, including stretch marks.

As with all areas of health, lifestyle choices matter. Drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and consistent sleep will improve skin’s appearance.

Stretch marks are not uncommon, so LMTs benefit from understanding why they appear and how to help diminish their appearance. Here at East West College of the Healing Arts, our 800-hour initial licensure program includes in-depth education that one might expect in a medical massage certification. For Portland, Oregon massage therapists who would like to extend their knowledge, our northwest massage school offers a plethora of CE classes, including multiple pre- and peri-natal massage technique. Call us at 503-233-6500 to learn more about our programs and CE offerings.