As discussed in our previous blog, inflammation is a normal part of tissue healing. It initiates the process of healing by removing damaged cells and flooding the injured region with the cells that promote tissue healing. However, when inflammation persists, especially when long past the initial injury, it has a negative effect on the body’s ability to heal itself.
Normally, the inflammatory process is regulated by the immune system, which works to prevent tissue damage to both the injured structure and the surrounding region. The normal signs and symptoms of inflammation are heat, redness, swelling, and pain. Within the initial 24-48 hours after injury, these signs are normal and act as a signal that something is hurt. With an acute, or new injury the onset of swelling is fast and is usually mild and resolves on its own. The symptoms will typically be obvious, that is to say, you know that you are hurt. In the case of chronic inflammation, especially in the case of injuries that result from overuse or repetitive strain (injuries that don’t have one obvious cause), the onset of symptoms may be slow, progressive, and the initial signs may be less noticeable at first.
Chronic inflammation differs from acute inflammation in that different cells are involved, and instead of repairing the injury, the cells release toxins that cause tissue destruction and inadequate healing. Instead of an injury healing in the way it is supposed to, if it heals, it heals in a weakened, disorganized state. This results in a tendon, muscle, or ligament that is weakened, painful, and at risk for further injury or damage.
This type of injury is both painful and disabling. Individuals may find that they are unable to control their pain and swelling. It can limit someone’s ability to perform both their daily and recreational activities and may persist for weeks, months, and even years. People may seek numerous treatments, medications, and specialists with little to no relief because nothing seems to help.
Physical therapy can treat chronic inflammation by both managing pain and in identifying the many factors that are contributing to the individual’s persistent symptoms. In the case of chronic pain and inflammation, we have to look at not only the specific site of pain but also everything around it. Our bodies are amazingly complex and allow us to do many different activities, however, this complexity means that something going on in one part of the body can affect what happens somewhere else. This pain and inflammation contribute to loss of normal strength and range of motion, but can also change how we move. While we may develop certain postures and movement patterns because of pain, these compensations in our posture and movement often contribute to making symptoms worse and unless they are addressed it is impossible to get better. In physical therapy, we look at not only what hurts, but why it hurts.
At Life’s Work Physical Therapy, we have advanced training in the management of chronic inflammation and pain. We work with our patients on both short term pain solutions but most importantly solutions that lead to long-term healing. Chronic inflammation is complicated, but by looking thoroughly at the factors that led up to it and what has happened since, we can map a way back to healthy healing.