Stupid Pain. Stupid Inflammation.
There’s probably been a time in your life where you’ve bumped your toe, turn the corner and bumped your elbow, or cut yourself to see the area become a bit red, painful, and swollen. That can all be contributed to inflammation. You may here that word tossed around a lot, but what exactly is inflammation?
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a composition of different mechanisms that are activated in the body in response to tissue injury1. Basically it is a chain of events that happen because of damage to the cells. The Roman physician Celsus established four cardinal signs of inflammation which are:
- Redness (Rubar) – Due to increased blood flow and collection of blood at the site following injury
- Heat (Calor) – Increased blood flow in the area causes an increase in temperature. That is why the area may feel warm to the touch.
- Swelling (Tumor) – Edema, which is accumulation of fluids, occurs in the area that is affected. This include tissue debris and inflammatory exudate, which is a collection of body fluids and inflammatory components.
- Pain (Dolar)- Substances such as histamines(chemicals in the body that are sent out when the immune system reacts), serotonin (affects mood), and kinins (proteins in the blood that affect blood pressure) are released into the area that is injured and cause feelings of pain.
When the injury occurs, first there is constriction of the blood vessels, then dilation, or expansion of the blood vessels. Compounds and different components in the blood to leak out due to the increased ability for these material to permeate, or flow through in between blood vessel walls.
White blood cells begin collecting at the point of injury. White blood cells engulf or consume the bacteria in a process also known as …are you ready? phagocytosis (phag-o-sai-toh-sis …thanks to dictionary.com for the pronounciation). When dead white cells begin collecting at an area that has become infected, it is called pus, which I’m pretty sure that we have all heard that term before. It is our body’s natural way of fighting bacteria and preventing further damage.
NSAIDs (Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are used conventionally to reduce inflammation. They help to block 2 enzymes called cyclooxygenase, or COX-1 and Cox-2, which release chemicals in the body call prostaglandins which promote the inflammatory process7. Cox-1, however, creates prostaglandins that support platelet function and protect the stomach, and drugs that hinder this enzyme may cause an increase in bleeding or ulcers. Side effects of NSAIDS may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, and may even be as extreme as kidney failure, liver failure, and ulcers7.
Inflammation and Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine we look at inflammation in a couple of ways. Meridians are considered superficial highways that connect the outer portion of the body to the internal organs. When these areas become blocked, it impedes the flow of energy and can be manifested in pain, redness, and swelling. This can also effect other parts and functions of the body since everything is interconnected as one. For instance, increased pain and blood flow could affect your mood, making it easier for you to become angry, thus releasing more stress hormones into your body which may have an affect on your autonomic and cardiovascular system.
An acupuncturist may also identify inflammation as what we call bi-syndrome, particularly heat bi. This primarily affects the joints, which it being associated with redness, pain, and swelling. Certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can fall under this category. For my patients, as do other acupuncturist do for theirs, I also examine the tongue and pulse to gather a better idea of the extent to which the body is affected by the injury. Some individuals manifest signs more on their tongue than pulse and vise versa.
Acupuncture has been shown to have positive anti-inflammatory effects, such as being able to increase vasoactive intestinal peptides, a molecule that has anti-inflammatory properties that is released in the body4. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce edema and inflammations in animal studies5.
Ultimately as acupuncturist we diagnose and treat each individual according their own physiological disharmony and create a treatment plan best fit you to live in balance with your environment. We may also use herbal therapy such as a combination of herbs that are used to clear heat from the body and improve circulation (we call those herbs that invigorate the blood).
Foods for Inflammation
There are different foods you can incorporate into your daily meal plan to help reduce inflammation. Cherries, berries, and green vegetables help not only with the inflammation but will also improve your digestive system, provide you with more energy, and help you feel 10 times better. Unsaturated fats may also play a role in helping to reduce tissue inflammation as well8. Be sure to avoid greasy junk foods, and eat more nutrient rich, natural foods to help your body in the healing process.
Hopefully this helps you to better understanding your body.
1. Thibodeau, G. 2006. Anatomy and Physiology, fifth edition. Mosby Inc pg 142-143
2. Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/phagocytosis
3. C Xinnong. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibution, , 1999. Page 487-490
4. He TF, Yang WJ, Zhang SH, Zhang CY, Li LB, Chen YF. 2011. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 290489. Epub 2010 Sep 14.
5. Li A, Lao L, Wang Y, Xin J, Ren K, Berman BM, Tan M, Zhang R.2008 Electroacupuncture activates corticotrophin-releasing hormone-containing neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalammus to alleviate edema in a rat model of inflammation.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 May 12;8:20.
6. Jegtvig, S. 2011. Anti-Inflammatory Foods. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://nutrition.about.com/od/dietsformedicaldisorders/a/antiinflamfood.htm
7. Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) (cont.). 2011. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://www.medicinenet.com/nonsteroidal_antiinflammatory_drugs/page2.htm#side%20effects
8. Cintra DE, Ropelle ER, Moraes JC, Pauli JR, Morari J, de Souza CT, Grimaldi R, Stahl M, Carvalheira JB, Saad MJ, Velloso LA.. 2012. Unsaturated Fatty acids revert diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation in obesity.PLoS One. Epub 2012 Jan 18.