Inflammation is the body’s response to a perceived harmful stimulus such as foreign bacteria entering the body or a broken bone. It serves to increase blood flow to that area to speed up healing, and restrict the movement of the tissues/joint/area in an effort to mitigate further injuring that area.
Oftentimes an athlete will realize they have a problem with the onset of inflammation. It is important to be aware of the outbreak of inflammation and to treat it quickly, whilst noting the reason(s) for its occurrence. Inflammation as experienced by athletes usually falls into one of two injury categories. Acute or chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when a singular event leads to injury. Examples include a torn ACL, sprained ankle, broken arm. Here the injuries can be explained by putting too much force into the body in such a fashion as it couldn’t handle (falling on your wrists and breaking them) or poor movement patterns (such as valgus knees leading to non contact ACL tears) leading to one event where the injury occurred.
Chronic inflammation in the athletic sense normally occurs from repeated poor movement patterns coupled with a workload that one’s body is not capable of handling; both putting stress on tendons/ligaments/bones in a fashion they were not designed for. These are commonly overuse injuries. Examples include painful swelling in the knees arising from Osgood Schlatters disease, plantar fasciitis, and others.
How to Deal with Inflammation:
The initial phases of acute and chronic inflammation should be treated in similar fashion. The goal is to decrease the immediate swelling sustained from the injury to speed up the healing process and the return to previous activity levels. Commonly athletes are told to Rest Ice Compress Elevate (RICE) their injured areas. This is a mostly solid healing protocol. However in recent years the icing recommendation has come under fire with certain people noting that icing primarily serves to ‘turn off’ the nerves of that area for a period of time and thus diminish the feeling of pain; while decreasing the blood flow to the area and clogging up the lymphatic system (primary system responsible for the elimination of inflammation). Thus their argument is that icing is counter productive for healing an injury. I tend to agree with them, with the stipulation being that prolonged icing is the main culprit of decreasing blood flow (greater than 5-10 minutes). Rest, Compression and Elevation are all beneficial for the initial onset of inflammation.
Once the initial phases of the inflammation are dealt with, athletes need to continue the healing process by increasing the blood flow to the injured areas and supporting the lymphatic system. I recommend a gradual progression of increasing activity when recovering from an injury. Starting with progressively longer walks, more intense stretching and moving into lower intensity exercises with higher repetitions. The progression will depend on each situation and should be dictated by how the athlete feels. To stimulate the lymphatic system, contraction surrounding the injured areas is needed. This can be provided from muscular contraction or from outside compression such as a Rogue Voodoo floss band. If you’re interested in seeing how the Rogue Voodoo floss band can drastically decrease the inflammation of an area check out my review of them here. The point here is that once the initial inflammation subsides, the athlete should gradually increase their activity levels and stimulate the injured area to increase the rate of healing.
I cannot stress it enough that inflammation (as commonly experienced by athletes) is merely a symptom of some root cause. If the inflammation is treated, yet the underlying reason behind it is not, you can rest assured that the problem will still be there and will recur when activity starts ramping up again.
One of my hopes is that through accumulating information from this site and others athletes will be able to identify faulty movement and loading patterns before they are exposed to inflammation and injury.