Is Inflammation Bad or Good?
Imagine this scenario for a minute.
You’ve just signed up for a running race that happens later in the year and can’t wait to get started training. Today’s training run is supposed to be light and easy. As you are running along at a good pace, minding your own business, you suddenly hit a bump in the side walk and roll your ankle- OUCH! As you start to make your way back home, you notice your ankle start to swell and become quite painful. It has doubled in size since you first rolled it and as you are grabbing some ice to put on it, you tell yourself that you may as well kiss the race goodbye because all this swelling is a bad thing.
Or is it?
A common misconception is that inflammation is something that is bad and that should be eliminated. When in fact inflammation is necessary and needed or there would be no healing. This misconception persists in part because of the signs inflammation, such as pain and swelling, are often mistaken for the inflammation response itself. Minimizing the signs of inflammation is beneficial, whereas eliminating inflammation will prolong the process of healing.
Another misconception is that the terms swelling, edema and inflammation are interchangeable, as in they all mean the same thing. However, this is also not true. Swelling and edema occur during inflammation, but the inflammatory response is a much more complex process. Likewise, edema and swelling are not the same. Edema causes swelling but swelling can occur from other sources.
When an injury occurs to our body it results in anatomical, physiological, pathological and psychological changes, so that the body can begin the healing process. Inflammation (also known as an inflammatory response) is the local response of the body to an injury and has a dual function:
- To defend the body against foreign substances
- To dispose of dead and dying tissue so healing (repair) can take place
Common signs of inflammation include: redness, heat, swelling, pain and functional loss. Using the scenario above, as the ankle started to swell it was already showing signs of the inflammatory response. While these primary signs of inflammation always occur in response to an injury, their magnitude and effect on a person’s activity depend on the extent of the injury, where it occurred, and the nature of the activity
For example, a splinter in the finger may not cause loss of function to the average person, but a splinter in the finger to a Major League Baseball pitcher may prevent the player from throwing his best curveball.
So, you’re in luck all my injured friends! Swelling and pain (among other symptoms of an injury) are all a natural process that occurs after an injury.
If you are suffering through an injury right now and are looking to see how you can minimize the signs of inflammation, (so you can get back to your run training, tennis match, golf game), Athletic Therapy can help!
Marina White- Certified Athletic Therapist
Owner, Okanagan Athletic Therapy