We hear a lot about inflammation when it comes to injuries and healing. You’ve probably taken an anti-inflammatory medication for some type for an injury in the past? Or maybe you’ve reached for an icepack when you see part of your body start to swell up? If you looked closely, you may have noticed redness and warmth around the injured area and it was probably swollen and painful as well. As hard as it is to believe, we should actually welcome this response – it serves more of a purpose than you might think! Inflammation happens because it is the body’s attempt to repair and heal itself. Think of it as the body’s first line of defense against tissue damage.
The Classic Signs of Inflammation:
Redness – the blood vessels become dilated and widen, which allows more blood into the affected area. This also brings more white blood cells into the area so they fight infection and help to promote repair of the cells.
Swelling – the blood vessels also become leakier, which allows fluid to move out of the vessels and into the surrounding tissue spaces. This helps to promote healing of the surrounding areas.
Warmth – more warm blood flowing into the area can cause the skin to feel warmer to the touch.
Pain – occurs as part of a protective reflex in the body but can also result from direct stimulation of the nerve endings. Chemicals released during the inflammatory response also play a role in signalling pain.
The ultimate benefit of all these changes (and the silver lining for putting up with this less-than-fun process) is that usually, and with any luck, the harmful threat is destroyed and your body can return to normal. Instead of thinking of inflammation as a bad thing, it helps to realize that it’s actually protective.
In a perfect world, inflammation is uncomplicated – the threat is eliminated and the tissue returns to normal, with no evidence of the process remaining. In cases where the damage is more extensive, repair is needed before the tissue can return to function. So in these cases, healing is prolonged and inflammation becomes chronic until repair occurs by replacement of cells and/or scar formation. The optimal outcome of chronic inflammation or of any injury, is for healing and repair to occur, so that the integrity and function of the injured tissue is restored.