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What Is Inflammation? Part I

Inflammation is all the rage these days; or more appropriately, inflammation makes us enraged. It has become the catch all term for all things that make us ill.

In my field of physical therapy practice, a central goal of care is to help people feel less pain and move better. Therefore, we are concerned about the process of inflammation, especially in the musculoskeletal system.

I thought it would be helpful to present the concept of inflammation and how to manage it in several parts. Part I is today’s blog, which aims to define and explain this process in the body.

So here it comes–

The word inflammation comes from the Latin “inflammo”, meaning “I set alight, I ignite”; I suppose it feels that way sometimes. And according to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, Inflammation is:

“A fundamental pathologic process consisting of a dynamic complex of histologically apparent cytologic changes, cellular infiltration, and mediator release that occurs in the affected blood vessels and adjacent tissues in response to an injury or abnormal stimulation caused by a physical, chemical, or biologic agent, including the local reactions and resulting morphologic changes; the destruction or removal of the injurious material; and the responses that lead to repair and healing”.

In fact a healthy dose of inflammation is important to healing. It occurs during an infection, a fall and tissue damage, and in certain cases, microtrauma that we sustain during day-to-day living. Inflammation mobilizes the body’s defense and repair system, and normally resolves once the harmful stimulus is removed. However, problems arise when inflammation causes further inflammation, and it becomes self-perpetuating leading to detrimental effects on tissues and health.

On a musculoskeletal level, we can see inflammation in the muscles, connective tissues and joints. For example, in the joints, faulty mechanics or repetitive use leads to increased strain and physical friction that can result in the erosion or breakdown of the protective cartilage tissues. In response, our immune system initiates an inflammatory process (it’s our body’s 911 system) and dispatches various messengers to the area to begin clean up and repair. However continued mechanical load and faulty alignment does not allow optimal healing and the inflammatory process continues….

This is a simplified example of how injury and inflammation happen in the musculoskeletal system, and how things can go wrong. In Part II we will discuss management strategies to keep inflammation at bay.

Until next time. Chili

Vital Physical Therapy
Rebuild Strengthen Thrive

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