Misconceptions abound around the topic of inflammation. Some mistakenly believe that this condition is always temporary. Others think inflammation is only caused by infectious diseases. Here are the facts about inflammation, including what it is, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.
Inflammation is part of your body’s natural immune response. When you become sick or injured, your body responds by increasing blood flow to the affected area to bring oxygen, nutrients, clotting factors, white blood cells, growth factors, and more to where they are needed. This increase in blood flow results in the five classic signs of inflammation:
- Heat – More blood means more warmth. Inflamed locations will often feel warm to the touch.
- Redness – Again, extra blood can cause the area in question to appear pink or red.
- Swelling – Accumulation of blood, pus, and other fluids often make inflamed body parts swell. This phenomenon is also called oedema.
- Pain – Pain may result from the inflammation trigger, such as trauma, or from the inflammation response itself.
- Loss of Function – This problem occurs most often in inflamed joints and internal organs. Inflammation can lead to loss of function, such as joint stiffness or organ failure.
Causes of Inflammation
The chief causes of inflammation are trauma or pathogens. For instance, lifting a heavy object may inflame your shoulder joints and the surrounding muscles. Also, harmful viruses or bacteria could trigger inflammation. A sore throat would be one example.
It is important to note that the inflammation response is non-specific. In other words, the response is not customised to specific pathogens. However, once immune components such as antibodies arrive at the intended site, a tailored response can begin.
Acute vs Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation may be acute or chronic. An inflamed nose resulting from a cold would be an example of acute inflammation; so would a temporary muscle strain. These conditions will improve on their own or with minimal care.
Chronic inflammation is usually a more serious problem. This condition includes injuries that just will not heal as well as persistently inflamed organs. Gallbladder inflammation, for instance, is a type of chronic inflammation.
What to Do?
If you have an inflamed muscle or joint that simply won’t improve, it’s time to see your physician or chiropractor. They will evaluate the problem and determine if the inflammation is the result of an injury or infection. Your provider can then make treatment recommendations.
Treatments may include icing the area, physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, and many other options. It may take a few treatments, but most cases of chronically inflamed joints and muscles do show improvement or even complete resolution. However, it is important that you do not delay your visit and seek care as soon as possible.