Inflammation & Swelling | Sports Injuries & Health Condition

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is an important part of the body’s immune response to infection and injury. As well as defending itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, inflammation is the body’s way of signalling the immune system to repair and heal damaged tissue.

Without inflammation as a physiological response, infections could become deadly and wounds septic. It’s often beneficial when, for example, your knee sustains a blow and your tissues need protection.

During the inflammation process, the body’s white blood cells, and the substances they produce, protect us from infection with foreign organisms such as viruses and bacteria. However, in some diseases, like arthritis, the body’s defence system (the immune system) triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off.

What Causes Inflammation?

Inflammation is triggered by the immune system in response to an infection or injury. When it occurs somewhere in the body, chemicals from white blood cells are released into the blood, which then protects the body from foreign substances. As a result, blood flow increases to the area of infection or injury as the protective chemicals are released. This can cause swelling as some of the chemicals cause a leak of fluid into the tissues, and it’s this protective process that also stimulates nerves, which is often what causes the pain and discomfort we associate with inflammation.

Inflammation in the body does not necessarily mean that there is an infection, but infection can cause inflammation. Before and during acute inflammation, there are three main processes which occur:

  • The body releases neutrophils – a neutrophil is a type of white blood cell
  • Fluids and proteins move between blood and cells – as the capillaries become easier to infiltrate
  • Increased blood flow – as the small branches of arteries enlarge when supplying blood to the damaged region

How can you treat Inflammation?

It’s important to note that reducing inflammation is sometimes helpful, though not always necessary, as inflammation is part of the natural healing process. However, here are some common treatments used to treat inflammation

Anti-inflammatory medications

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be taken to relieve the pain caused by inflammation. Commonly available examples include aspirin and ibuprofen.

Unless advised by a doctor, long-term use of NSAIDs should be avoided; as they increase a person’s risk of stomach ulcers, which can result in life-threatening bleeding. Regular use of NSAIDs has also been known to increase the risk of having a stroke or heart attack, as well as causing kidney damage.

If the inflammation is a long term problem in the joint, such as arthritis, then the treatment options can be different compared to a one-off injury. For example, it may be recommended that the inflammation can be helped by rest, or alternatively may be aided by exercise. There are also alternative therapies (such as magnetic therapies) that are available, although sometimes only surgery will be able to correct joint damage. The type of treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including the person’s age, medical history, type of disease, the severity of symptoms and overall health:

The goals of treatment are the following:

  • Change or avoid any activities that aggravate the pain/inflammation
  • Maintain joint movement and muscle strength through physical or alternative therapy 
  • Decrease stress on the joints by using canes, braces or splints if necessary
  • Relieve pain through prescribed medications and/or anti-inflammatory drugs

Can Inflammation Be Cured?

Whether a bout of inflammation can be cured will depend on the type that a person has. For example, acute inflammation occurs after a cut on the knee, a sprained ankle or a sore throat. it works at the precise place where a problem exists, so it’s a short-term response with localised effects. However, chronic inflammation is also called persistent inflammation because it produces a steady, low-level of inflammation throughout the body and requires different treatments. As outlined above, there is also joint inflammation which can be caused by arthritis, for which a doctor may prescribe a variety of treatments or therapies taking into consideration a number of factors.

In short, whether inflammation can be cured depends on a number of factors, but there is a range of options out there.

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