Adhesion Medical Causes and Types

Adhesion is a term used in medicine for tissue fiber that develops between soft tissues and other tissues, organs or structures. Like a scar on the outside of the body, it is usually the result of an injury or healing after surgery. It is called an adhesion because the tissues now adhere, or stick to one another in a way they didn't before it developed. Normally joints and organs have slippery surfaces so they can move around it other or create smooth movement. An adhesion restricts this movement and can lead to many problems, including pain.

What Causes Adhesions?

Any process that causes inflammation can lead to adhesions. When you have mechanical trauma from a blow, cut or surgery it can lead to the formation of an adhesion. Infections, cancer, and radiation treatment can also cause adhesions. All of these can lead to scarring inside the body as the tissue is damaged and then the body repairs itself.

Abdominal Adhesions

Abdominal adhesions are a common type seen after surgery on the abdomen. The organs of the abdomen are contained inside the abdominal or peritoneal cavity. They are not embedded and immobile, so normally they have a slight freedom of movement. The fibrous tissue of an adhesion causes organs to stick together or to the walls of the cavity in ways they normally wouldn't. Adhesions can cause the intestines and bowel to kink or twist, which can cause a medical emergency. You would have to get to the hospital for immediate medical care.

Pelvic Adhesions and Fertility

Pelvic adhesions can affect a woman's uterus and fallopian tubes. They can be caused by endometriosis, surgery or pelvic inflammatory disease. Adhesions outside of the organs might make it difficult for the ovum to enter the fallopian tubes, resulting in fertility problems. Adhesions inside the uterus itself from surgery (like D&C) and procedures can also lead to infertility or miscarriages.

Adhesions in Sports Medicine

When used in a sports medicine context, adhesion means an abnormal adherence of soft tissue (collagen fibers) to surrounding structures. It often occurs after an injury or trauma or during immobilization following injuries. Adhesions restrict normal movement and elasticity of the structures involved. Adhesions can make it more difficult to move a joint, affecting the joint itself, tendons or ligaments.

One way to break up adhesions within muscles is by performing self-massage with a foam roller. This not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.

Frozen Shoulder or Adhesive Capsulitis

In this condition, adhesions form in the shoulder joint capsule. This causes pain and makes it hard to move the shoulder.

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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.