Inflammation: a Necessary Evil

Inflammation or swelling is a part of normal healing and we would not be able to return to a normal without it! Why are we always trying to decrease it? Why are there drugs, diets and supplements aimed at decreasing it?

Without the inflammatory process, there would be no scab formation following a cut, which means bleeding would continue! Inflammation also occurs in response to injury or illness. A fever, for instance, is a sign of inflammation that the body uses to “kill” pathogens. While a fever is necessary, it can be dangerous to have a temperature that is too high or lasts too long, as the cells of your body will no longer be operating optimally. Using the example of soft tissue injury such as a sprained ankle or torn rotator cuff, there will be swelling, redness, and warmth due to increased blood flow to the area (vasodilation). This occurs so that more blood can reach the area in order to deliver cells involved in the healing process and remove waste products. Some of these cells may also stimulate sensory nerve endings called ‘nociceptors,’ which transmit pain signals to the brain. Pain is protective and alerts us to injury or arm. In the case of the ankle sprain or RTC tear, we will tend to automatically avoid bearing weight or using the injured side.

Inflammation becomes a problem when it continues for too long and your body cannot progress to the next stage of healing. Therapists and other healthcare practitioners may recommend using ice, Advil or Aleve or high level laser therapy in order to shorten or calm inflammation. This also helps to minimize pain! Also, if we can shorten the inflammatory phase of healing, we can more quickly progress throughout the next phases, and return you to functioning at your best!