What Is An Unstable Scar?

A scar, in essence, is a mark left behind after a wound or injury to the skin has healed. Formed as part of the natural healing process, these are testaments to the amazing regenerative ability of the body. However, not all scars are the same. It is possible to have what is referred to as an ‘unstable scar.’ This may include keloid scars, which are when the scar tissue has thickened to a bump at the site of scarring as well as extending past it. Another type of unstable scar includes hypertrophic scars. These are also thick and raised at the site of scarring, however, they do not extend past the original wound site. A contracture scar occurs when a large portion of skin tissue is harmed or removed, and the remaining skin must be pulled tight, which can then affect other soft tissue including muscles, joints, and tendons as it heals. Another distinction between unstable scars is the difference between a linear scar and nonlinear scars. A linear scar follows a straight line which may have resulted from injury or may even include surgical scars while nonlinear scars show up in all directions, such as from a burn injury or various skin conditions. The secrets these unusual scars hold and the problems they potentially unfold are largely unknown. However, the potential harm they may cause necessitates staying up to date to avoid further problems unfolding in the future. For example, a burn injury is more likely to cause skin cancer, so if you have a burn scar it’s important to stay aware of how it has healed, any changes to the skin tissue in that area, and any other symptoms that affect you. This article offers a comprehensive understanding of what unstable scars are, how they form, and how they might affect an individual’s life.

Understanding an Unstable Scar

The concept of an unstable scar is rooted in its distinct characteristics. Unlike superficial scars, an unstable scar does not cease to change over time and can continue to undergo morphologic alterations long after the wound healing process has ended. This continuous change in shape, color, and texture distinguishes an unstable scar from a stable scar.

Stable scars conform to a pattern of healing where over a span of twelve to eighteen months, they fade and flatten, and their presence becomes far less noticeable. Unstable scars, however, disobey this timeline, remaining itchy, painful, raised, or red for a considerable period, and may even worsen as time passes.

Additionally, unstable scars tend to spread outside the borders of the original wound, a feature not observed in stable scars. These growing scars can become increasingly problematic, aesthetically and functionally, leading to physical discomfort and psychological distress.

The Formation of Unstable Scars

Every scar shares a common origin – an open wound. As the body initiates its healing process, collagen, a protein essential for skin strength and elasticity, is sent to mend the tissue. This repaired skin is what we see as a scar. A crucial difference in the formation of unstable scars comes down to how the healing process is regulated.

Various factors influence the development of an unstable scar. Taking center stage are the depth and size of the wound, the level of skin tissue loss, the location, the age of the patient, and their genetic predisposition. If the wound healing process is disrupted, it can result in abnormal collagen deposition, leading to the creation of an unstable scar. Additionally, if the scar is located in a high-tension area such as the knee joint, the activity may cause further issues with the healing of the scar. 

Complications associated with Unstable Scars

While stable scars can serve as unobtrusive reminders of past injuries, unstable scars can invite a host of complications. Predominantly, their problems are two-fold: physical discomfort and psychological distress.

Physical symptoms include itching and pain, affecting the individual’s comfort and daily life. In severe cases, these scars can restrict movement, depending on their location.

Meanwhile, the aesthetic aspect of unstable scars can have a severe impact on an individual’s self-esteem, leading to psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression. Thus, these scars do not merely cause superficial problems but can significantly affect an individual’s mental well-being and quality of life.

Prevention and Treatment Options for Unstable Scars

Preventing the formation of unstable scars involves steps taken during and post-wound care. Keeping the wound clean, allowing it to heal without disruption (like scratching), and protecting it from extreme temperatures can reduce the risk of unstable scar formation.

When it comes to treating existing scars, medical professionals play a vital role in managing unstable scars. Various treatment options are available – from nonsurgical methods such as compression therapy and silicone products to surgical solutions such as using a skin graft to treat the scarring or laser treatments. The effectiveness of each depends on factors such as the individual’s health, the severity of scarring, and location.


Unstable scars, while common, carry a unique set of characteristics distinct from regular scars. The persistent and problematic nature of these scars extends beyond their physical manifestation, impacting individuals at a psychological level as well. Understanding their formation and associated complications allows us to take preventive measures or seek appropriate treatment.

Remember, if you, or someone you know, is dealing with these symptoms, professional medical advice can be of immense help. It’s never too late to address an unstable scar, and professional resources are readily available to help navigate this path to recovery.

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