Is Inflammation Good Or Bad?

Swelling, redness and pain are the hallmarks of muscle strains, joint sprains and soft tissue injuries. They’re all natural reactions to trauma but reducing this painful inflammation via medication is not the best thing to do. In the past, patients were advised to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and apply ice to inflamed areas immediately after an injury. More recent studies have shown that taking medicines like Ibuprofen, Naproxen or Voltarol can in fact slow down your healing. Why is this? And what can you take for pain instead? 

Acute inflammation in response to an injury is fundamental to mobilising the processes of healing. These complex reactions rush blood to the area and make the capillary bed of the surrounding tissue become more permeable. Proteins, white blood cells and macrophages (which ‘eat’ diseased or damaged cells) all pour into the injured zone, causing the swelling we’re all familiar with. Pain and heat are side effects of this swelling process, which also alert us to the injury site. If we didn’t feel this pain, we’d be unlikely to avoid further damage to the area. 

Do Anti-Inflammatories Help With Healing?

Taking a drug which reduces swelling and inflammation won’t actually reduce the pain and in fact it will have the unwanted effect of reducing the effectiveness of this initial healing reaction. Evidence is emerging that anti-inflammatories taken at the wrong time of day (night) inhibit wound healing and bone repair. Worse still, suppressing acute inflammation reduces white blood cell activity and can usher in chronic inflammation and longer-term pain.

How should you manage acute inflammation?

  • Limit your pain medication to analgesics like paracetamol (making sure you stay within the advised dose). 
  • Don’t be tempted to immobilise yourself in bed. Move around gently every half hour. 
  • Injuries to ankles and knees should be iced, elevated and compressed but get back on your feet as soon as you can – use a walking aid to help you. Obviously, don’t cause yourself acute pain but be prepared to accept a little pain when you move. 
  • Give us a ring to get advice from a chiropractor or physio here at Sundial – we offer free telephone consultations to discuss your symptoms and advise you how to manage them until you can come in for treatment. 

What about chronic inflammation? 

Conditions like arthritis and lower back pain are associated with long-term inflammation and stiffness. Pain relief via opioids (such as codeine) has recently been shown to be no more effective than a placebo in the long term and moreover carries a heavy risk of addiction. Effective management always involves exercise, mobilisation and strengthening of the supporting muscles. For lower back pain, a visit to Sundial for a thorough examination will help pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. After that, just follow your treatment plan to get better as quickly as possible. 

Want some expert advice on managing acute or chronic pain? Book here for an appointment.