How to reduce inflammation in your body?
Inflammation is not all bad… don't believe me? Read on…
The four cardinal signs of inflammation that we have no doubt all experienced at some stage are heat, redness, swelling and pain. These four symptoms happen as a result of a local innate immune system responding to a harmful stimulus, like a sprained ankle for example. Within minutes of an injury, the immune system has initiated an increase in blood flow to the injured area with three main purposes in mind:
- Preventing infection and removing damaged tissue
- Preventing the spread of infection and repairing damaged tissue
- Recruiting more specialised immune cells if the initial innate immune system cannot control an infection or repair tissue damage on its own
Let’s go back to our sprained ankle example. When you roll over on your ankle, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels are often temporarily overstretched causing damage to these structures. In minor cases, the body will initiate an innate immune response to remove damaged tissue and begin the repair process, perfect! In more severe cases, when blood vessels are damaged, the natural process of dilating these blood vessels to encourage the flow of immune cells to the injured area, results in blood pouring into the injury site. This, along with a significant increase in lymphatic tissue, due to the damaged cells, results in the all-too-familiar heat, redness, swelling and pain.
How to treat an acute injury
When I say RICE, I'm not talking the little white grains we all know so well. I'm talking about the acronym to follow of course! The RICE principle for treating an acute injury is easy to remember and I strongly suggest (yes…I'm waving my finger at you!) it’s followed for the best results.
When it comes to treating an acute injury the first priority is REST. You heard it first here peeps! I'll say it again in case you missed it…REST! So don't be afraid to ask for help getting to a chair or the couch and definitely don't keep playing sport because there are only 2 minutes left in the game. More on that later!
The primary reason for this is to not make the injury worse. Initially, after a sprained ankle, the damaged soft tissues are prone to further damage. Take the damage to the blood vessels as an example, if you continue to weight bear on your ankle (hobbling back to the car), you are likely to further tear the vulnerable vessels, resulting in more blood escaping into the joint, leading to more inflammation, redness, heat and pain. NOT what we want! Not only this, but the immune cells that are required to prevent infection, remove damaged tissue and start the repair process aren’t getting to where they need to. Instead, they are just aimlessly flowing into the interstitial fluid, becoming a part of the problem rather than the solution.
So there you have it…permission to REST and take full control of the remote and binge-watch while your injury can (errrm shall I say it again?) REST!
Now I need to say something before we begin. If you have decided to shrug off the above REST advice and want to keep playing in your chosen sport, please don't ice until you're able to rest the injury. Please note it is extremely important to never ice an area during a sporting game if you are planning to go back onto the field or court. Icing intentionally reduces blood supply to the injured area, which would leave it extremely vulnerable to injury if you then expected it to perform physically afterwards. If you imagine a half-frozen chicken fillet trying to function as a usual muscle but being unable to due to the fibres being slightly frozen, this is a little bit how your muscles would function…not well at all and highly likely to be further injured. If you, your kids or grandkids play sport click here to find out more about when to ice and when not to ice.
Ok, now that’s said, let's get to the ICE protocol. Applying ice to the injured area will assist the damaged blood vessels to heal dramatically faster which is exactly what we want. Continued bleeding into the injured area will only slow down the process of healing and potentially make the injury worse so icing will help to stop this from happening. Imagine the continued increase in fluid volume if blood continues to leak into the injury site. Not great. This accumulating inflammation is likely to be applying pressure (ouch) to the already damaged ligaments and tendons from the injury.
The icing protocol needs to be strategic, however, as we are still wanting the innate immune cells to be delivered to the area to prevent infection, remove damaged cells and begin the tissue repair. This is why we apply ice with a 10-minute on and 10 minutes off protocol. Why, you ask? 10 minutes of ice to help repair the damaged vessels and 10 minutes to thaw out the area to allow new immune cells to arrive on the scene. This protocol can be continued for as long as the pain persists, as pain is a sure sign that the pressure of the inflammation is significant enough to potentially cause further damage.
It is extremely important to note here, when applying ice make sure there is always something between the ice and the injured skin, such as a thin tea towel. Ice burns can easily occur which will only add more trauma to the injury. Don’t mistake the pain of the injury for the pain of an ice burn. Trust me…I've been there and the burnt impression of an old-fashioned ice brick on a calf, albeit humorous, is not the outcome we are after.
Applying compression to the injury helps to control the extent of localised swelling, preventing the pressure created by the swelling from further damaging the already vulnerable soft tissues. A firm compression bandage will prevent continued excessive swelling in the area. The bandage needs to be firm, but not tight enough to prevent blood flow from getting into the area. If you have access to a Wrap-On-Ice Pack, this is your opportunity to use it to make your life easier, as it compresses and ices at the same time. Clever little thing it is!
Remember the binge-watching while resting I mentioned earlier? This is the best time to raise your injured ankle or injured body part above your heart, helping to lower the pressure in the local area which is great for helping to ease the pain. And more importantly, it assists the lymphatic system to remove the inflammatory exudate (damaged cells from the injury). Given the lymphatic system does not have a specific organ as a pump, like our heart for the circulatory system, it relies heavily on muscle movement to flush the lymphatic exudate towards the lymph nodes at the ends of our limbs to enable it to be cleaned and returned to the bloodstream. Given we are encouraging you not to move your injured ankle, the only way we can assist the lymphatic drainage is to elevate the limb so that gravity can take over. So grab all the pillows in the house and make yourself comfy!
A great way to achieve the RICE protocol with very little effort is to use the Wrap-On Ice Pack mentioned above. I can't speak highly enough of this simple little life-saver. Never again will I be on the kitchen floor crying and trying to keep frozen peas strapped to me with apron strings. Oh the despair! This wrap is designed to provide a safe barrier between the skin and the ice pack to prevent ice burns, as well as applying good strong compression to prevent further swelling. It holds the mouldable ice pack snuggly to where it’s needed most and best of all…it offers you a hands-free solution! You can then still be on the go if you have to (Muuuuum….what’s for dinner??) or just wanting to sit back on the couch and elevate your injured limb without the ice pack falling off. Peas in a tea towel or apron can only get you so far before it just becomes a pain in the…well…you know what I mean. Super annoying! The large Wrap-On-Ice system comes with two mouldable gel ice packs, that can be used for heating or icing (remember never heat an acute injury), allowing you to leave one ice pack in the freezer ready to go. If, on the other hand, you are wanting to treat smaller joints, headaches or younger children, there is also a mini Wrap-On ice pack system available, which comes with one malleable gel pack, that can also be used as a heat and ice pack. An absolute must-have for sporty families or those prone to injury. Once you have used this you won't go back, I can promise you that.
Now you have the icing protocol down-pat, here is an absolute GEM for you to expedite the healing process! It’s usually done in a practitioner’s clinic but read on to find out how you can further the healing process immediately and in the comfort of your own home. Sometimes we can’t get access to a practitioner, if it’s the weekend or out of hours, so having access to a Therapeutic Ultrasound is the next step for speeding up the recovery of a soft tissue injury.
If the injury is severe or the pain intensifies with using the ice protocol, please seek emergency treatment immediately. If on the other hand, the pain decreases, the next step for a speedy recovery can begin in the home immediately. The use of a Therapeutic Ultrasound, which used to only be available in clinical settings, can now be done safely and effectively from the comfort of your couch. Traditionally Therapeutic Ultrasound used to come with a large number of variable knobs and switches that required in-depth training to achieve the right parameters to achieve the desired results. With significant technological advances, Dr Kez Chirolab® has been able to provide a small, yet highly powerful device with simple inbuilt settings that allow you to treat acute and chronic injuries at home without any need for specialised training, just a few simple steps to follow for clinician quality results.
How does the Dr Kez Chirolab® Therapeutic Ultrasound help with reducing inflammation and healing injuries?
The ultrasound uses extremely high-frequency sound waves (beyond the realm of human hearing, a silent wonder!) so you can’t actually hear or feel the unit vibrating, but the cells underneath are definitely having a dance party! The sound waves penetrate deep below the surface of the skin to energise the underlying cells, causing them to vibrate at this same high frequency, resulting in the potential to significantly enhance the repair and regeneration process.
Given that the ultrasound is designed to facilitate the innate healing processes of the body, this modality can be used at any time over the duration of an injury or ailment, including immediately post-trauma, provided there are no open wounds present. Such a great little device to have when needing to treat an injury straight away or for ongoing ailments. It helps to get you back to your normal self! For more information on the potential healing powers of the therapeutic ultrasound click here.
Overall, by treating an acute injury with icing and using Therapeutic Ultrasound, helps the body prevent further damage to the injured area while still allowing it to perform the important task of preventing infection, removing damaged tissue and initiating the repair and regeneration process. Unfortunately, in certain circumstances when the body is regularly experiencing acute injuries, is under undue stress or experiencing chronic disease, this inflammatory process can become ongoing. Given that the inflammatory response is mediated by the circulatory and immune systems, this ongoing inflammation can have an effect on the entire body, resulting in a primed state known as being pro-inflammatory. The body can end up in a chronic state of inflammation without the usual injuries that traditionally trigger inflammation in the body. Unfortunately, this results in the system (the one that’s there to protect us) beginning to work against us, causing constant stiffness and pain in multiple areas within the body. At this point, we need to reset our system and the best way to do this is by reducing all external factors that create inflammation in our bodies. Although the therapeutic ultrasound is by far the tool of choice in my clinical practice for assisting the body to eliminate inflammation and promote repair and regeneration, this effect is predominantly local. When the body is showing signs of wider spread inflammation (systemic inflammation), a great way to support the body is by being mindful of what we eat. Yes, believe it or not, there are some foods that can increase inflammation in our bodies, making chronic inflammation worse and resulting in it lasting for longer. There are also foods that can help to reduce inflammation within the body too. I bet you didn't see that one coming! For more information on whether the food you are eating is making inflammation worse in your body, click here.