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REHAB IN MOTION: Inflammation is a normal response to injury

By Ben Chatterson

Inflammation is the way the body reacts to infection, irritation or injury.

It is a protective response of the body to remove whatever is causing the problem as well as initiate the healing process for the tissue.

When inflammation occurs, chemicals from the body’s white blood cells increase blood flow to the area. This may result in redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause leakage of fluid into the tissues, resulting in swelling. The inflammatory process may also stimulate nerves and cause pain.

In the absence of inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal and progressive destruction of the tissue would occur.

Inflammation is a perfectly normal response following an acute (recent) injury. It can last for several days to a week after an injury.

The cells that invade the tissues following injury help to clear away dead or damaged tissue, and the increase in blood flow helps to bring in the proteins and nutrients that the tissues need to heal.

The swelling that occurs during the inflammatory response helps to splint the joint and prevent any further damage to the injured tissues. The best way to treat acute inflammation is using rest, ice, compression and elevation. If there is only minor damage, tissue inflammation should resolve within a few days following injury. Inflammation following more serious injuries like broken bones can last for several months. The body keeps the inflammatory system ‘on alert’ until the injury is totally healed.

Inflammation that does not resolve after several days or weeks can be classified as chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can come from several different sources.

In some diseases, the body’s defence system (immune system) inappropriately triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign substances to fight off.

In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an example of an inflammatory disease that can eventually cause extensive damage to the body’s joints and tissues. Chronic inflammation, due to autoimmune diseases, in the early stages, is generally characterized by joint stiffness and tenderness.

These symptoms slowly progress over a long period of time until eventually movement can become difficult and painful. Anti-inflammatory medications will often help to decrease the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Chronic inflammation can also be caused by a long-term stress to a tissue. Improper mechanics or repeated stress to a muscle, tendon or bone can result in tissue damage that creates an inflammatory response and increases symptoms.

Proper diagnosis of the cause of inflammation is essential in treating the underlying problem.

For example, physiotherapy would not be effective in treating inflammation that is being caused by a bacterial infection.

On the other hand, anti-inflammatory medications alone will not fix improper shoulder mechanics. Only a specific program to restore proper shoulder strength and movement, and decrease the stress on inflamed tissues will allow the injury to heal.

Ben Chatterson is a physiotherapist at Rehabilitation in Motion which has four Island locations including two in Campbell River: Willow Point, (250) 923-3773; Quinsam (across from SaveOn Foods), (250) 286-9670; Comox Valley, (250) 334-9670; Port Alberni; (250) 723-9675. Visit www.rehabinmotion.com

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