Alternative scar treatment

WHILE working as a physiotherapist at a burns unit in Brisbane, Cathy Smith treated a patient who’d been injured in a workplace explosion.

She carried out the usual treatments—massage, creams and compression garments—to little avail, turning to acupuncture as a resort to  manage the inflammation and pain.

In no time at all the patient’s skin improved, but shortly afterwards Smith relocated to Perth and she didn’t get to find out if the patient had made a good recovery.

“I have often thought about him since, wondering how he is now,” she says.

Smith has since researched, for her masters of science, how acupuncture can help treat symptomatic scars, which continue to be painful after six weeks, often due to irritation of the nervous system which stimulates the release of chemicals, irritating the skin and keeping it inflamed.

The most common examples are scars from major burns or surgery, which can take years before fully healing.

Smith says acupuncture stimulates the sensory nervous system and can help reduce inflammation.

• Cathy Smith. Photo by Jayden O’Neil

Her interest in alternative medicine began after working with two well-regarded practitioners that used holistic treatments.

Afterwards, Smith decided to do a post-grad in Western Acupuncture, and says western medicine does not take alternative treatments seriously, despite their popularity and reported efficacy in China.

“My aim is to produce a high quality clinical trial so that the results can be used to guide treatment protocols,” she says.

“My rationale for treatment is based purely on medical principles and neuroscience rather than Traditional Chinese Medicine theories, which is unusual in the field of human acupuncture research.”

As part of her masters at Notre Dame University, Smith will carry out a scar study with 86 participants, who will attend six sessions over four weeks.

Treatments will include scar massage and acupuncture, followed by a questionnaire on their scars and general well-being. Anyone over the age of 18 with symptomatic scars, which are more than six weeks old, are eligible.

To participate in the study, email


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