Why does my old scar do that???
October 21, 2013 5:49 PM   Subscribe

I have an old scar on my knee. When something scratches, bumps, or hits it, it swells up! It's done this the whole time. Why? {photos inside}

I have a nasty scar on my knee. It's not big really, just ugly and deep and old. When I hit it, it swells up. So far my searches all go to keloid scars or infections after surgery, but this isn't that!

When I was like 11/12 ish I was rollerblading, walked to the car over an unfinished driveway that was all gravel, and fell. I sliced my knee open really bad - like gushing blood bad - for reasons I don't want to get into I didn't get it stitched or go to the doctor. (If I had a time machine I would totally change that.) Anyway, it took probably over 6 weeks to fully heal and I was pulling gravel bits out of it for the first 2.

Since then (which is about 11 - 12 years) it's been a nasty scar. At first it was more pink and raised. Now it's normally more purple and indented.

However, whenever I hit it on something, scratch it, rug burn it, sit on my knees on a hard floor, or any sort of trauma it swells up and gets solid as a rock. The first time this happened I was probably 16. I went into the clinic and all I got was, "If it doesn't go down, we can schedule a plastic surgery to remove the scar tissue." And since it went down the next day I didn't worry about it.

This has happened about 5-10 times since then. Every time the swelling goes down, but I'm curious as to what kind of scar tissue this is, and what causes it. It happened again last night. I literally nudged the mattress over with my knee and the edge gave me a very slight fabric burn followed by my scar swelling.

Swollen scar photo 1, photo 2, photo 3. It normally, like I said, is indented and purple. This photo I took today and most of the swelling is gone but it's still kind of pink and puffy but closer to "normal".

So, why is it doing this? Is it a problem or just an inconvenience? Do you have a scar that does this?

I'm curios not only because it's weird, but also I was planning on getting knee cap tattoos and now it seems that I'll have to move them above the scar. I'm sure the swelling will push the ink out. However if it's something that needs to be removed, then maybe knee tattoos could happen.
posted by Crystalinne to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you should have a dermatologist or plastic surgeon look at it. That's an odd behavior.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:54 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

For whatever it's worth, I also have a scar that does this, and until right this second, it had never occurred to me that it was anything unusual.

That said, I don't see any reason you couldn't get a tattoo there. The swelling won't push the ink out--I have a tattoo on my foot/ankle, and last year it swelled Very Dramatically (think grapefruit) for the better part of a month when I twisted it. The tattoo looked slightly weird, but as soon as the swelling down it went right back to normal, no ink loss or permanent warping.

If mere swelling could push out tattoos, think of all the pregnant women whose hip/belly tattoos would be long gone! See someone about the scar if you want, but I wouldn't go into it assuming that the tattoo is no go because of it.
posted by MeghanC at 7:14 PM on October 21, 2013

The swelling won't push tattoo ink out. I have several tattoos over scars and over old stretch marks and none of them has lost ink. Scar tissue is definitely harder to tattoo - it is a different texture than regular skin and sometimes artists might have to go over the area a couple of times to make sure the ink is really in there, but swelling won't do anything.

I have scar tissue (and some healed, thick tattoo outlines) that swell a bit when I'm sick, but it's not on the order of the swelling you're seeing. I'd check with a dermatologist.
posted by bedhead at 7:53 PM on October 21, 2013

Hm. If it swells that quickly, I'd think it might swell before a tattooist was even done, making a bit of wobbly tattoo. I'm guessing you've still got some debris in there. Go see a doctor if you can. I would not go forward with the tattoo before getting a good opinion on it.
posted by amanda at 8:52 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for answers so far. I'm not sure if there's any debris in there. Shouldn't it have worked it's way to the surface under such thin skin after 12 years? I also can't feel anything in there.

I'm fairly sure I won't tattoo over it. It literally swells within a minute and it would probably split my skin open since it gets rock solid. I'd rather not chance it. I'm open to getting it checked out but I might have an easier time scheduling a tattoo before being able to schedule a doctor's appointment (don't worry though, I have like 5 others I could get before these.)

Is there a type of scar that does this? Or is this just a weird thing that happens?
posted by Crystalinne at 9:09 PM on October 21, 2013

um, i came in to say, don't all scars do this? honestly, unless it's causing you pain, i wouldn't worry about it.

most of my tattoos puff up when irritated. not the same, but similar. histamine reaction.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2013

I had an old surgical scar from repair of a broken leg which uniquely among a number of surgical scars did not fade to near invisibility after a few years, but stayed raised and had a series of small purplish knots along its eight inch length and would occasionally swell up when I kicked a football-- until I happened to be taking an antibiotic (Augmentin, a penicillin plus a compound to defeat antibiotic resistance) for other reasons.

At that point, an ulcer popped open wherever there was a purple knot, and when those all healed, the scar subsided and faded away like all the others.

I think you have a walled off infection in your knee, and that when you bump it your immune system sees it and goes into action, producing the swelling.

I also think it would be wise to have the scar removed, especially if you're going to get a tattoo.
posted by jamjam at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2013

Not to keep harping on the tattoo aspect, but I think you should speak to a tattoo artist as you seem to be misinformed about the mechanics of tattooing. As previous commenters have observed, there is no way swelling can push ink out of your skin. And nope, your scar would not split under the duress of tattooing. The artist would put a stencil transfer on your knee before any swelling would occur, and any distortion of the skin after that wouldn't matter; after the swelling went down, the tattoo would be the shape of the stencil.

About the scar itself: you probably have what is called a granuloma, which just means your body has formed scar tissue in response to foreign bodies i.e. the gravel. There's probably still some debris in there causing irritation and when bumped/further irritated, you get a histamine response. It's probably an inconvenience and not a problem, but it might be worth having a dermatologist look at it.
posted by Specklet at 9:45 AM on October 22, 2013

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