If you recently injured yourself, or had a sudden onset of low back or neck pain, take note: inflammation is responsible for creating your pain sensations.
I didn’t say this was good or bad– just that inflammation, or the inflammatory response to injury/ tissue damage is maintaining the sensation of pain.
Understand that despite its negative connotation in the media, inflammation is a natural, protective response to injury that is necessary for healing.
- triggers the proliferation of white blood cells that attack microorganisms and remove debris;
- dilates local blood vessels and increases their permeability (swelling) to bring more oxygen to the area (more oxygen is needed for the high metabolic activity of damaged tissue);
- produces heat which speeds up activity and makes it difficult for germs to thrive;
- results in pain to discourage you from using the injured area while it is vulnerable.
- quarantines the damaged site from the rest of the body
Normally, after an acute injury such as an ankle sprain, inflammation goes through three phases:
- lots of swelling, redness and pain initially for the first 72 hours (acute phase);
- followed by a gradual reduction in swelling and pain as debris is cleared and special cells called fibroblasts lay down collagen fibers for repair (sub-acute, repair phase); then
- remodeling and strengthening of the new collagen fibers over several weeks (post-acute, remodeling phase).
Eventually, everything gets back to normal.
So for most cases of straight-forward joint sprains/strains R.I.C.E.– Rest, ice, compression and elevation is all you need.
- Rest it– don’t splint it unless necessary; just avoid placing a load on the injured joint, or avoid moving it through its full range during the acute phase
- Apply ice in the beginning only to keep the swelling from getting excessive/ out of control and to reduce pain; about every two hours for 15-20 minutes a session.
- Compress it– this is the least necessary, but some people find it helpful to compress the area to help encourage the swelling to go down.
- Elevate it — use gravity to assist the flow of blood back to the heart. If it’s your ankle, lie down and place the injured ankle on a pile of sofa pillows so that it is above your heart.
Let the inflammation take its course and trust in your body’s wisdom to heal; helping it as needed. Unless the pain is so bad that it’s preventing you from doing things you need to do, avoid taking NSAIDs like Tylenol, Motrin or Ipuprofen. Although NSAIDs can reduce pain, they do interrupt the body’s natural attempts to heal a damaged area and may even delay healing.
When inflammation is not so good
Now, if all goes well your injured body part will be back to normal before long. But what if it is six months later, and you still feel pain?
It could mean a number of things.
- Perhaps you have a bone fracture. Fractures take longer to heal.
- A torn ligament or tendon takes longer to heal, as these tissues are not directly vascularized.
- Infection can complicate healing.
- The nature of the injury is causing a joint to be abrasive to adjacent tissue during movement.
In these cases, the cause needs to be addressed with a secondary treatment regimen.
But another possibility is that the inflammatory response has gone haywire. It continues at high levels long after the injury has completed its healing. Why this happens is unclear. In rheumatoid arthritis, it’s attributed to the body’s immune system attacking joint surfaces, which creates a continual state of inflammation and pain.
In cases of excessive inflammation, you may need to take NSAIDs to dampen the process and essentially tell your body “it’s time to stop producing inflammation.”
The other possibility is that you have a pre-existing state of systemic inflammation that is driving the process. “Systemic” in this sense generally means “widespread throughout the body.” This can be interfering with the local inflammation of your injury site.
Causes of systemic inflammation include:
- allergic reactions
- exposure to pollutants
- diet comprised of highly processed food
In most cases it’s difficult to “feel” systemic inflammation because it is usually sub-acute/ chronic. But despite this, systemic inflammation wreaks havoc on your health. It is associated with most chronic, degenerative diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Chron’s disease/ colitis, and Alzheimers disease.
Blood tests that can indicate the presence of systemic inflammation include C-reactive protein (CRP), erythroctye sedimentation rate (ESR), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and homocysteine. If your levels are high in any one of these, it is prudent to assume you have an inflammatory condition and take the necessary precautions.
First and foremost is to see your doctor to rule out pathologies/ disease processes.
Second, switch to a low calorie diet centered on whole, naturally-occurring plants and protein.
Next, increase intake of the following herbs/ supplements/ superfoods:
- Fish oil
- Dark cherries
- Green leafy vegetable juice
Drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day, reduce your stress and get eight hours of restful sleep. As your inflammation resolves, you will notice faster healing, more energy and strength, clearer mind and a leaner body.
Often it’s the simple things that are within your control that have the most powerful healing effect on your body.
As Hippocrates said, “make food your medicine and medicine your food.”
If you experience chronic pain, check out my book on Amazon, Erase Your Chronic Pain: Unleash Your Body’s Full Healing Potential.