While I believe all these ways to combat inflammation have a time and a place, I think we often start treating inflammation without first stopping to ask good questions.
- Why is there inflammation?
- What caused the inflammation?
- Where is the inflammation coming from?
- Could the inflammation be a good/helpful thing?
- How do I treat the underlying cause of the inflammation?
- Is treating the inflammation without addressing the cause beneficial?
- Could treating the inflammation without treating the cause be harmful?
When talking about the musculoskeletal system, the answers to these questions are often overlooked even though they are quite easy to figure out. Inflammation is a natural response of the human body and immune system and serves a purpose. Let's look at a couple different scenarios to explore the idea of inflammation.
You are running through a park, hiking down a trail, or playing basketball and sprain your ankle. Your ankle immediately starts swelling (inflammation). Why and is this inflammation a good or bad thing? Your ankle swells in response to the damaged tissues. The inflammation has three important rolls:
- The increased fluid (blood and lymphatic) will speed healing by removing dead cells and bringing the building blocks for new cells.
- Swelling reduces movement at the injured joint thus reducing the chance of further injury.
- The pain produced by the injury and swelling is a great deterrent from doing too much and further injuring the area.
If we use ice or compression to decrease blood and lymphatic flow, what effect does that have on the natural healing process? If we reduce the swelling around the injured joint, does that increase our chance of re-injury? If we take something to eliminate the pain, how does that affect what we think about the injury (no pain - do we feel we are healed?) and what we physically do (no pain - do more than our body is ready for)? Are these good or bad actions and what long term effect do they have? Is doing things to feel better now mean we are going to feel better later?
Discovering the cause of sprained ankles:
In this scenario, we know what caused the sprained ankle (at first glance) - stepping in a hole or on someones foot, but why do some people step in the same hole twisting their ankle and are able to keep running with no pain?
"Weak ankles" is the cause of the sprained ankle, but it's not something you're born with (so don't blame your mom!). Weak ankles are ankles that are not surrounded by strong conditioned muscles and not working together with the knee, hip, and shoulder above it. The body is a unit and the ankle, knee, and hip work together to stabilize the foot as we move. If your hip is tilted, knee is rotated, and foot splayed there is no way for your ankle to be strong - it needs its team behind it. When you correct the postural imbalances you reduce your likelihood of injury (or re-injury) and quicken recovery from injury (whether the injury is days or decades old). A "weak" ankle, knee, or back is all because of postural imbalances and can be made "strong" again with postural alignment therapy targeted to your posture and imbalances.
You have chronic inflammation in and around your knee. Your knee has been swollen for about two years and is progressively getting worse. Your doctor said you have osteoarthritis in your knee and may be looking at a knee replacement in the future. It is important to remember that everything happens for a reason and is caused by something. Let's try using some good questions and critical thinking skills and see if we can figure out what caused the knee problem.
What is arthritis and osteoarthritis? What caused the arthritis in the first place? Is taking NSAIDs or prednisone to reduce the pain and inflammation helpful? Does it fix the problem or treat the symptom? Would starting an anti-inflammatory diet help? Is exercise a good or bad thing for your knees?
Discovering the cause of osteoarthritis:
Arthritis means joint inflammation. Osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. Age, being overweight, and family history are named as risk factors in osteoarthritis, but are worth examining with some common sense. If age, family history, or weight caused osteoarthritis, then everyone of a certain age, family, or weight would be suffering and they are not. How could age, genetics, or weight be the cause of osteoarthritis if the arthritis is picking sides of the body or only certain joints? It can't be your age, genetics, or weight if it's only your right knee that's affected. Something else has to be causing the problem.
Joint damage from injuries or recurrent stress to the joint from faulty body posture and mechanics is a more logical cause of the osteoarthritis disease process. It has been shown that patients with previous knee injuries may be up to five times more likely to have osteoarthritis in the injured knee than those without injuries, and patients with previous hip injuries may be more than three times as likely to develop arthritis in the injured hip. Injury does not always lead to osteoarthritis and they key lies in the treatment of the injury.
Just like a sprained ankle, postural and biomechanical imbalances lead to "weak" and unsupported joints that are prone to injury. Restoring alignment and body posture and restoring function will prevent injury but also speed the recovering from injury. After any injury the body immediately starts to compensate for the injured area and those compensations that are meant to be temporary quickly become ingrained in your muscle memory. Those compensatory movements create recurrent stress on joints and tissues in the body and lead to degenerative processes over time. Postural Alignment Therapy eliminates compensatory movements and restores proper joint and muscle function decreasing negative stress on the body. Treating postural imbalances after injury eliminates the real cause of injury instead of simply treating the symptoms.
Knee joint osteoarthritis
Why ice and anti-inflammatory medication is not the answer