Inflammation gets a really bad rap these days. It’s become the “buzzword” for marketers, supplement developers and our yoga community. The most unfortunate thing is it’s pretty much exclusively described as the bad guy. And that’s really not the truth.
As is commonly the case with our cultural context we aren’t looking beyond the symptoms. We think that the symptoms are the problem, when in fact the symptoms are often the result of our body managing the actual, real problem that we’ve overlooked.
Inflammation is a symptom. Not a cause.
You might not have thought of it that way previously. But it is. Inflammation is a response of the body to some kind of insult; some kind of damage. It is not the cause of the problem and therefore should not be the factor that we primarily seek to stop. We should instead be using it as a tool to observe whether other methods of repairing the actual damage are successful.
The issue is that we often don’t look into what is causing the initial problem. We seek to stop the inflammation without understanding the underlying issues. This has two main problems associated with it:
1. Long term change is hard
When we don’t know what’s causing the problem, we can’t change our lifestyle significantly enough to create change. Changing our living habits is hard enough as it is, but it’s nearly impossible if we don’t actually know what we need to change.
2. Your healing profile is altered
The process of inflammation is strongly linked to the healing process in adult bodies. There are hundreds of factors that contribute to the inflammatory cascade, and thousands of genes, so it’s a complex system, and it has clearly served us well over the millennia (during the majority of which, we never attempted to reduce inflammation).
It has been demonstrated that inhibiting the inflammatory cascade and therefore altering the healing profile of your body can negatively influence bone remodeling and the healing of fractures. (Read This).
Inflammation fights off infection, so without it we are more susceptible to bacterial and viral assault. (read).
We also know that by icing soft tissue injuries in an effort to reduce the inflammation, we actually delay the healing process and sometimes even limit the bodies’ ability to heal the injury fully: read here and here.
So if it’s good for us, why does it have a bad reputation?
Because we’re constantly researching, exploring and learning more about the inflammation process, the factors involved and how they all contribute to, and participate in healing, there’s a lot of information out there.
When we look at certain isolated scenarios, there are times when excessive and/or chronic inflammation has created negative health consequences. For example:
- In certain heart-related health conditions, increased inflammation has produced greater tissue damage and poorer health outcomes: read here.
- In chronic wound healing, where the inflammation is present beyond a normal length of time and to a higher degree than necessary, it causes issues: read here.
The thing is we have to remember that each of these is a particular and specific scenario. The results of these studies are absolutely relevant and important, but we cannot blanket everything under these findings.
So should we use anti-inflammatory factors?
It depends on the scenario.
The evidence to suggest inflammation is beneficial in healing soft tissue and hard tissue injuries strongly encourages you to NOT use anti-inflammatory mediators so that the body can heal. This is acute inflammation and we should generally leave it alone.
On the other hand inflammation that is caused by, atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes mellitus can cause increased damage and poorer health outcomes, so in these circumstances it can be useful to limit or inhibit inflammation. This is chronic inflammation and typically is better if we limit it.
Like this article? You might also want to see “When Joints Crack In Thai Massage – Is It Okay?” or “You Probably Think There Are 4 Quadriceps Muscles. Think Again.“.