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Does inflammation wear a white hat or a black hat?

One of the most often said phrases in my office is, “I don’t know how this happened doc!” The patient has no idea what happened to start their pain. In our last blog, we discussed the body’s response to stress and the effects of prolonged stress. We learned that prolonged stress could cause diseases and even can cause tissue damage. This tissue damage is more than likely the silent cause of that unexplainable injury. Let’s take a deeper look at this process.

Inflammation is the primary healing response to stress. We also must remember that the brain cannot differentiate types of stress. The brain does not know the difference between a physical stress like a trip or fall and an emotional stress like the death of a family member. Inflammation is that stress response in fluid (blood). The blood is the transport mechanism that carries all the hormones, raw materials, and energy source that initiate the various reactions we talked about in the last blog. Inflammation also brings white blood cells to the damaged tissue that needs repair work. When damage occurs, there will be debris as well as debris will be left from the actual repair process. That debris is called exudate and this material will decompose at the site and releases toxins that irritate nerve endings that result in pain.

Inflammation is an exceptionally fast reacting mechanism. You may remember a time when you twisted your ankle and fell. By the time you yelped in pain and looked at your ankle it was the size of a softball! That is speed and efficiency. Ouch, right?

We have all been taught that inflammation is a bad guy. We are told by television commercials, ads in magazines, and even by our doctors that we need to remove inflammation to stop the pain. The truth is that the pain is not directly due to the inflammation. The pain is the result of the tissue damage. The pain is present to alert you to the problem that now exists. Think of pain like a dashboard indicator light in your car.

The indicator light is not the problem. If we add oil to the car and the oil light on the dashboard goes out, did we fix the cause of the oil shortage? What if an oil indicator light came on because the oil was leaking out from a small hole in a gasket? Putting in more oil might turn out the indicator, but the problem still would exist. Most of us think the same way about inflammation. If we get rid of the inflammation, we believe that the pain will be gone, and we will be all better. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When we use inflammation reducing agents like non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, naproxen, or a high dose of aspirin we will remove the inflammation. We reduce inflammation with steroidal drugs like prednisone. Steroidal drugs have many more side effects that make them less desirable, even though they are stronger anti-inflammatories.

The pain will stop with this course of action. The problem with inflammation reduction is that there is no ability to repair the damage because there is not enough repair materials present. When there is an incomplete healing of a tissue that is used before it is repaired, more damage can occur, and this causes more inflammation. The new inflammation accumulation causes a new dose of anti-inflammatories to be utilized and the cycle begins again. This is perceived as a stress and starts that cycle again, resulting in even more inflammation. We also must remember that inflammation carries with it a super post-trauma debris clean-up mechanism. This mechanism is the immune system or what you and I know as white blood cells. It turns out inflammation is the good guy!

Remember, if there is no inflammation there is no cleanup crew. The debris from the damage and partially completed and interrupted repair process starts to degrade and release the poisonous toxins that result in even more pain and swelling.

Repeated inflammation removal will slow the healing process. If the removal of inflammation goes on long enough and is complete enough, the tissue will not heal properly if at all. This can lead to re-injury with a much lower threshold of injury causation. Repeated re-injury can lead to scarring and permanent disfiguration of that damaged or diseased tissue. It is easy to see how the problems can begin to pile up and become more serious.

In our next blog we will examine how we can treat these injuries through chiropractic care and be effective in pain relief, controlling inflammation to benefit us, and speeding a more complete repair process. Please be sure to follow us on Face Book @kirkweberchiropractor. If you have questions or comments, please email them to, message me from the message button on the website home page, use the email form on this website, use the comment section below. I will answer your questions as soon as possible.

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