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The word inflammation always seems to come up when describing an injury, infection, or other illness. So often, people are in a hurry to get rid of any inflammation they experience.
It seems as though the word inflammation has become erroneously synonymous with illness, ailment, or pain. But that’s not the case. Fortunately, we’re here with this gamer guide to inflammation to help you understand the facts.
What is inflammation?
According to Merriam-Webster, inflammation is defined as a local response to cellular injury that is marked by capillary dilatation, leukocytic infiltration, redness, heat, and pain and that serves as a mechanism initiating the elimination of noxious agents and of damaged tissue.
This definition is all-inclusive but perhaps a bit too science-y. So let’s break it down…
Inflammation is a physiologic response to damage or injury to any type of body tissue. To explain it as simply as possible, your body will increase blood flow to the area that has been injured or damaged.
With increased blood flow, the damaged tissue is exposed to increased oxygen, nutrients, and different types of blood cells that will all work together to fix the damage.
Therefore, without inflammation, your body will not heal! Inflammation is an absolutely necessary function to put your body back together!
So, how do you know when you have inflammation? Simple!
The phrase “clinical presentation” is in reference to how any illness or ailments presents during a physical examination. Basically, it’s how it appears to people on the outside.
The most obvious sign of inflammation is pain. Inflamed tissue will hurt—or at least feel tender.
The remaining three signs are all present due to the increase in blood flow:
- Swelling: the inflamed tissue will appear swollen
- Redness: the increased blood flow will create a red hue to the skin surrounding the region of inflammation
- Heat: the increased blood flow will also make the inflamed area warm to the touch
What’s the problem?
Inflammation is commonly viewed as a problem, and you’ll frequently hear people—including medical professionals—telling you to use ice or over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen to decrease inflammation.
For the most part, inflammation is a good thing. As previously stated, inflammation is healing. But, there are two specific situations where inflammation is not particularly helpful. In these situations, you definitely want to do your best to reduce or resolve inflammation.
Acute, traumatic injuries—especially injuries of the joints and ligaments—have a tendency to create an environment of excessive inflammation.
The evolutionary purpose for this excessive inflammation was likely to create stability and to limit movement of a joint or ligament that has just been damaged.
For example, if you sprain your ankle and the ligaments have been damaged, tension on that ligament may lead to further damage. Therefore, your body will increase inflammation so excessively that you have extraordinary difficulty moving your ankle.
Prior to modern medicine, this was a reasonable protective mechanism. Now, with external bracing to prevent unwanted movement and so much research on ligament and joint injury rehabilitation, excessive inflammation and swelling of an injured joint just gets in the way of healing.
In this situation, taking recommended doses of anti-inflammatory medications and using ice to decrease excessive inflammation is appropriate.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation
This is a situation where inflammation is, by far, the most harmful. There are many factors involved in chronic, low-grade inflammation including poor diet/nutrition, stress, and lack of physical activity/exercise.
Regardless, chronic, low-grade inflammation increases all-cause mortality. Simply stated, this situation increases your likelihood of injury, illness, and death. This is the inflammation that absolutely must be reduced and controlled.
Different than inflammation that presents with pain, redness, swelling, and heat, chronic low-grade inflammation may go largely unnoticed. You may not experience any symptoms.
Also different than other forms of inflammation, ice and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen are not going to reduce chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Instead, it’s your lifestyle. Healthy foods rich in marine-sourced omega-3 fatty acids (namely, fish oil), monounsaturated fatty acids (peanuts, tree nuts, avocado, and extra virgin olive oil) avoiding processed sugars, stress management, exercise, proper hydration, and appropriate sleep and recovery will all help protect you from chronic, low-grade inflammation.
Additionally, supplements including anti-oxidants, omega-3 fish oils, flaxseed oil, and other vitamins and minerals may help reduce and limit chronic, low-grade inflammation. See our post on the basics of nutrition and our post on healthy snacks to learn more about healthy food choices.
Note: this is an educational post, only. These are general comments that are not recommendations for you to take any supplements, medications, or nutrition. You must consult your doctor prior to taking any supplements or medications.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t
If you suffer from chronic, overuse injuries, it is unlikely you’re experiencing inflammation. These injuries include:
These injuries are all considered tendinopathies—often incorrectly called tendinitis. The difference is the suffix. Ending a word with –itis implies inflammation which will insinuate the treatment should include anti-inflammatory measures.
However, as a tendinopathy, there is no inflammation. Remember the clinical presentation explained above! Inflammation is pain with redness, swelling, and heat! You will not have redness, swelling, and heat from a chronic overuse tendinopathy!
Other ailments are inflammatory in nature, and others may include inflammation. These injuries include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Cubital tunnel syndrome
- Piriformis syndrome (sciatica)
- Gamer’s thumb
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
For these injuries, anti-inflammatory measures may be the appropriate treatment. However, don’t assume! Read about each injury, and remember the clinical presentation of inflammation to know whether or not your body is inflamed!
Final notes: gamer guide to inflammation
- Inflammation is necessary for healing, but
- Excessive inflammation is inappropriate, and
- Chronic, low-grade inflammation is dangerous
- Inflammation is clinically categorized by four signs:
- Chronic, overuse tendinopathies are not inflammatory
- Other ailments may include inflammation (refer to the clinical presentation, and treat accordingly!)