Inflammation, from the Latin “inflammo”, literally means to “set alight” or “ignite”. We’ve all experienced different forms inflammation. Some of us may even have chronic inflammation.
Throughout our lives, we hardly bother with the nature of inflammation. In fact, the only thing we concern ourselves with is the fact that it is there and what the potential causes may be. After all, there is hardly any reason to dig deeper, is there?
Sort of. Inflammation is a key body process, the first line of defense our body has. In pathophysiology, it’s often referred to as a non-specific immune response; the body’s first response to loss of homeostasis.
Non-specific immunity? Homeostasis? Wait, what?
Let me back up a tad. Non-specific immunity, also known as “innate” immunity is our body’s general response to a problem. In a way it is regimented and organized damage control. It is not guaranteed to work, does not necessarily address the problem or the cause fully, but it is better than doing nothing. If anything it buys our body the much needed time to develop more specific means to dealing with the problems at hand.
Now, next on our list is “homeostasis”. The principle of homeostasis is actually fairly simple. The body likes to maintain equilibrium. It doesn’t like drastic change and is designed to counteract the change, if it occurs. In essence, if the external or the internal environment changes, the body responds.
Let’s return back to our discussion of inflammation. Now that we have established that inflammation is natural, let us further examine the causes as well the process by which it works.
Causes of Inflammation:
There is a wide range of causes for inflammation. From injury to disease, it would take forever to list them all. The most common causes of inflammation encountered in chiropractic usually involve muscle, tendon and joint inflammation, which have a fairly wide amount of causes. Some of the more prevalent ones, such as tendonitis and bursitis will be covered further in depth in follow up articles.
The Process: What happens during inflammation?
As inflammation is non-specific, it’s a pretty standard and general process among all, one that can be broken down into the following steps
- Inflammation inducing process occurs. For example, a nerve is pinched.
- The pinched nerve or an injured area releases histamines. Histamines are chemical compounds that serve as markers/triggers for local immune responses.
- The release of histamines leads to the dilation of capillaries and the blood flow to the area is increased. The area typically becomes noticeably redder in color.
- Increased blood flow and dilation of the surrounding area leads to swelling.
- The area typically feels warm or hot to the touch.
- Damaged tissue releases proteins that attract white blood cells such as phagocytes whose primary job is to ingest and digest harmful foreign particles, bacteria and dying/dead cells.
- The build up of white cells and may lead to pus formation.
- Hopefully, the immune response succeeds and histamines are no longer released. Affected area returns to normal as the stimulus is removed
Inflammation: The Good and the Bad
The most common problem with inflammation is the fact that it’s nonspecific and thus may be a result of a false stimulus. It could also be an onset of a completely unrelated stimulus, such as allergies, thus creating more problems within the body than solving.
When dealing with inflammation, it’s important to remember that while some types of inflammation are welcome and necessary for body function, there are others that are not. For example, inflammation post-exercise or strenuous activity is natural and to be expected. However, if such inflammation begins to persist past a fairly short period of time, it may become more harmful and needs to be dealt with as such.
Reducing Inflammation and its Negative Effects
- Hydrate. Or as my coach used to say, on the top of his lungs through a megaphone “HYDRATE,HYDRATE,HYDRATE!!!” Other than the commonly held benefits of hydration, it’s paramount when it comes to reducing swelling and inflammation. Inflammation requires water for its reactions and if we want it to pass fast and smoothly, it is imperative we provide it with everything it needs to perform its job quickly.
- Use Cold Therapy. Applying things such as Ice, frozen peas or cool running water to an inflamed area may help control or reduce the inflammation if needed. Cool temperatures slow the blood flow to the local area and swelling as well as heat is reduced. However, do not overdo it. The recommended length for icing a swollen area is no more than 20 minutes at a time.
In our next blog post, I’ll go in more detail about bursitis, a specific type of inflammation that affects the hip, shoulders, knees and elbows.
If you are suffering from inflammation, contact our office to schedule an appointment to visit with one of our chiropractors. Call us at 972-644-5555.