Inflammation, what is it? Why is it there?

Inflammation is an important natural, chemical response in the body, usually to an injury (e.g. sprain, an irritant, osteoarthritis or repetitive injury) or due to an underlying systemic condition. It is inflammation that causes the characteristic temporary changes to the body to help us to heal and recover from an injury.

These changes can be excessively painful for prolonged periods or even dangerous to our health and tissues such as in cases of rapid swelling in confined spaces of the body or during a hypersensitivity reaction i.e with an allergy or infection. Inflammation can occur as part of a long-term condition causing other unwanted side-effects, but in the short term it is meant to be a helpful response, depending on the severity and context.

The two main types of inflammation we see in clinic are:

  • Acute inflammation– a fast dramatic response of the body to send in healing chemicals – to get repair started fast, blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow and fluid to the local area to bring in the components need for repair. This reaction causes pain, swelling and heat. Pain is caused by inflammatory components being irritants to tissues and increased blood and fluid exudate quickly to an area causing stretch and pressure in confined spaces.

Once the damage is largely resolved, the acute phase of inflammation ebbs away, there may still be areas of sensitivity, this is your body protecting you from doing anything too much too soon so you can heal properly. Sometimes inflammation and sensitivity lingers too long, from here we can help guide you as to what to do to get through this phase quicker and to help in prevention of some injuries with advice and exercises.

Examples of acute injuries with acute inflammation we see in clinic are- ankle sprain, back or neck injury, shoulder injury.
Chronic inflammation- this means inflammation over a long period of time and it tends to be less obvious than the acute inflammation symptoms.

  • Chronic inflammation can cause pain and tissue destruction over time with characteristic appearances, such as in an underlying condition or with an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its own tissues, provoking a long term inflammatory response.

You may have chronic inflammation with an ongoing injury or irritant such as osteoarthritis which causes waves of inflammation or low grade ongoing inflammation causing pain, stiffness and reduced function.

Some of the symptoms of chronic inflammation are; pain and stiffness particularly after periods of rest e.g. getting up first thing in the morning or after sitting for a while. Neuropathies can occur, as can lower grade swelling, redness, fatigue, feeling unwell. And some other symptoms which we look out for to tell us more about the possible underlying conditions.

Conditions such as fibromyalgia are thought to provoke an inflammatory response which causes pain and stiffness in characteristic areas alongside other symptoms, it is not fully understood why.