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Should We Really Be So “Anti” Inflammation?

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Poor inflammation.  Yes…I just said that.  I truly feel sorry for inflammation as everyone is always trying to get rid of it…how would you like it if you were just trying to do your job and people kept trying to remove you from the office?  In our over-medicalized society, inflammation is given a bad reputation and there is a constant prescription for anti-inflammatories on T.V., in magazines, on the internet, and within the medical community.  Imagine having a medication that was “anti” you!  I would feel horrible if people were taking a pill that had an “anti-Katie” effect…like I said, poor inflammation.

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If we are able to step back and recognize what an amazing machine the human body is and discover that the body has specific functions for a reason, we might just be able to see the actual purpose of inflammation and not fear it so much.

What is Inflammation?

It is a natural, healthy response by the body when injury or infection has occurred.  The process of inflammation includes a release of blood flow to the affected area that has a high concentration of white blood cells and chemicals that assist with healing damaged tissue.  The signs of inflammation can include pain, heat, swelling, and loss of function or mobility in the area.

Why is inflammation useful?

The cells involved in inflammation assist with cleaning out the initial injury and then repairing the wounded area.  There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic.  Acute inflammation occurs immediately after an injury.  Think of the acute inflammatory cells that are initially released to the injured or infected area as being little Pac-Man’s (for those of you who lived through the 1980’s), eating up any damaged tissue that is no longer useful for the body.  The next round of cells are like little construction workers (I always picture cells with hard hats on- hee hee) whose job is to assist with wound healing and repair.  If the process is not properly controlled, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which can do more harm than good.

How can chronic inflammation be harmful?

If inflammation hangs out in an area too long (known as chronic inflammation), the cells can still be trying to remove tissue thinking that it is still necessary even though that process is already complete.  If this occurs, these cells that are trying to “clean” out the area are potentially damaging or removing sound, healthy tissue.   Anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to try to assist with removing chronic inflammation.  Exercise has also shown to assist with the removal of chronic inflammation in the body as well so it may be a good alternative to medication when addressing it.

Does inflammation directly cause pain?

It can…inflammation involves chemicals that can irritate nerves. This can cause an electrical impulse to be sent to the spinal cord and the brain indicating that something is potentially wrong with an area of the body.   If the threat of damage or injury is great enough, the central nervous system then reacts by producing pain to notify of the potential harm in the area.  BUT…you can have inflammation and not have any pain!  It just depends on how threatening the brain feels the area of damage could be to you.

Can we ever be friends with inflammation?  Yes!  As you can see from the above information, we need inflammation in order to properly heal from an injury or infection.  Can it be annoying?  Yes, but it may be a little less annoying now that you know it is a healthy and appropriate response by the body!

 

Katie Cordery, PT

Inflammation advocate 🙂