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Inflammation, Your Body’s Initial Response to a Trauma

Written by Dr. Derek Larsen DC

June 3, 2022

When I look across the internet for information about health and wellbeing I always seem to find information about how it is beneficial to decrease inflammation. Much of this information points to inflammation as the cause of many health issues. Many of these articles jump into how to reduce inflammation which I agree with. Still, it’s hard to find a good definition of inflammation Aside from a definition of the word it is even more difficult to find out what causes inflammation in the body. Today we’re going to talk about those two things and a few other things about inflammation.

What is inflammation?

In short, inflammation is the body’s response to stressors of life on a biochemical and cellular level. Google defines inflammation as “a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.”  It becomes noticeable in the body with the symptoms noted by google and there is an acronym that helped me remember those signs and symptoms. The acronym is SHARP, Swelling, Heat, Altered function, Redness, and Pain. This definition is best associated with Acute Inflammation which occurs as the body’s natural response to an injury or infection. In the acute stage, the inflammatory response is likely what has got you to this point. Without it, you may not have survived through a scrapped-up knee as a kid. Inflammation is the first step of the healing process in the body and without the inflammatory response, we wouldn’t be where we are today. 

There are different types of inflammation

Inflammation gets a bad wrap but we have to understand a bit about it before we can write it off as this terrible disease-causing entity. I want to say that inflammation is a good thing most of the time, despite popular opinion. As I said earlier you probably would not have survived much past childhood without inflammation. To make this a little easier we are going to divide the inflammation into three different categories, Acute inflammation Chronic inflammation, and systemic inflammation. 

General 

Before we break down inflammation I want to explain the purpose of the inflammatory response with a little analogy. I have been working with the volunteer fire department in town and there is a great analogy there for inflammatory response, here we go. When someone calls 911 in Juneau to report a fire they start a cascade of actions. The first thing that happens is the dispatch gets as much information as possible. After the information is received there is a call sent out over the radio to the on-duty career staff at Capital City Fire and Rescue (CCFR), as well as a call to the volunteers that comes up through an app on our cell phones. When we get the call as many as possible respond to the incident.  Many times 911 callers don’t have much more information than what they can see and the location of the fire. When there is little information about the incident the firefighters who arrive on the scene, take over as incident command, and then begin to make the call on how many resources the fire will require. If it is a large fire the incident commander will call for more fire trucks, tankers, or volunteers. If the fire is smaller or it turns out to be a controlled burn then we are all called off. We don’t know how bad the situation is until someone with some experience gets on the scene and starts making some calls. The same is true for the body. With any kind of injury, the body sends out an all-call to every available resource to respond to the scene, That all calls are the inflammatory response. If the injury is bad the body will call for more recourses and if it’s not too bad then that response will slow down. Sometimes the body needs special cells to come to the area and fight infection or heal something specific. Those cells are like the fire cause analysis team that comes later on. They are more specialized for certain jobs on the scene and are called in when they are needed specifically. To wrap this up I want you to remember that the inflammatory response is always the body sending its “first responders” to the scene of the emergency.  Let’s break down inflammation a little bit more now.

Acute

Acute inflammation is the most noticeable type of inflammation. It is the inflammation that happens first. If you sprain your ankle or break a bone you will notice almost immediately that the tissue in that area begins to change, it swells up and gets hot then your function is altered it turns red and it hurts (remember SHARP). This type of inflammation is designed by the body to protect the area that has become damaged, the swelling acts to help cast up the area to protect it, it also brings down a lot of the inflammatory chemicals that help the area begin the repair process. 

Chronic 

Chronic inflammation is not so good. Let’s be honest though, when you put chronic in front of anything it begs to be avoided. Chronic inflammation is just a longer-lasting response to the initial injury. Chronic inflammation usually happens when something doesn’t completely heal. The part of the body is still trying to heal but it hasn’t been able to perhaps due to lack of movement in the area, excess movement, or inability to heal at all (ruptured ligaments for example usually require surgery to heal), lack of proper nutrition to heal. In this case, instead of battling inflammation, it is better to battle the cause of that inflammation by giving your body what it needs to heal.

Systemic 

Systemic inflammation is the worst. This type of inflammation happens when your whole body is inflamed due to a chronic onslaught of trauma usually because of poor diet choices over a long period. Systemic inflammation is very common because of the poor quality of the standard American diet. Reducing this type of inflammation is best accomplished with diet changes. Remember inflammation is only the body’s response to what it perceives as a threat, getting rid of the threat will get rid of the inflammation. Check this article out for more information about changing your diet. 

What causes inflammation

Inflammation can be caused by a lot of things. Because it is the major response to trauma, anything traumatic to the body can cause inflammation. Broken bones, lacerations, soft tissue injuries, poor diet choices, even mosquito bites you name it and the body’s response is inflammation. 

Inflammation has got a bad wrap

As I said before inflammation has got a bad reputation. There are so many diseases that are categorized and characterized by chronic inflammation and many a health guru are trying to decrease said inflammation. I think there needs to be a bit of a shift in this thinking. Inflammation is a natural response to a stressor or potential threat, so the body is doing the best it can to overcome the stressor or threat. Decreasing inflammation is a fantastic idea but why not rid the body of the stressor instead? Why not reduce the number of times the body has to battle those stressors with inflammation? Changing up some lifestyle choices will have a huge impact on the number of times the body has to mount an inflammation response to protect itself.

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