How to prevent scars and contractures from burns

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Scars are thickened marks left after a burn has healed. Most second- and third-degree burns cause some degree of scarring. Physical therapists can work with the patient to prevent or reduce scarring.

Wearing pressure garments can minimize scarring. Patients with deeper burns need pressure garments, which are tight-fitting clothes to be worn over burned areas to reduce scarring. These must be worn 23 hours per day (taken off only for bathing) for up to two years after the burn.

The patient should have at least two sets of pressure garments so one can be worn at all times while the other pair is being washed. You should hand wash the pressure garment, rinse, squeeze gently on a towel, and hang to dry. Do not use bleach or put the pressure garment in the dryer because this will damage the garment.

Contractures occur when the burn scar matures, thickens, and tightens, preventing movement. A contracture is a serious complication of a burn. If a patient gets a contracture, he/she will not be able to move the scarred area normally. For example,  the patient may have difficulty doing normal things like dressing, walking, eating, or playing — depending on where the scar contracture is located. It is important that the patient do things for himself/herself regardless of how long it might take or how hard it might be for them. This will help prevent contractures and help the patient become independent and confident.

Most second- and third-degree burns do cause some degree of scarring, but there are several things that can be done to minimize scarring and to reduce contractures, including the following:

  • Wearing a splint
  • Practicing range of motion exercises
  • Exercising
  • Promoting independence

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