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Chronic Inflammation: A Whole Different Animal

Originally posted on September 14, 2010

Inflammation is something familiar to all physical therapists. Decreasing joint or soft tissue inflammatory conditions that cause pain and stiffness is part of our job. After a spill from a mountain bike, or a ski accident, acute inflammation is an issue. And, it’s part of what we address to promote healing.

But what if you are stiff and sore all over? It might be shoulder pain when you slept wrong, followed by back pain after pulling weeds, and neck pain after a long bike ride. The pain roves around, making more or less noise depending on activity and stress levels. That scenario sounds more like chronic inflammation, and it’s a whole different animal.

At Alta, we are good at making pain go away, until the next circumstance causes the next problem. Is there some underlying condition that prompts you to make another appointment, just in case, for next month? Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier to treat a problem early, so make the appointment. But in the meantime, do you ever wonder why some people are always dealing with aches and pains?

A truly holistic approach to healthy joints requires a look at the bigger picture. That includes evaluating inflammation triggers, because chronic inflammation affects your health, joints and all. Chronic inflammation has been in the news for a while now, with implications in heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.  Whole books have been written about the subject and the information can be overwhelming and confusing.

Fortunately, only a handful of factors commonly contribute to chronic inflammation. Take a personal inventory – improving any of these factors will help you feel better.

Poor diet: Diets high in sugar, white flour, processed foods, and “bad” fats (saturated and trans- fats) increase inflammation. A quick and easy reference for healthy eating is Food Rules by Michael Pollen. I especially like Chapter 20, titled:  “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.”   Additionally, many professionals now recommend taking supplements such as fish oil and vitamins B and D. Consult your physician to make a final decision on supplements.

Lack of exercise: We described exercise as the magic bullet in a previous newsletter.   (link)   Exercise improves immune function, decreases stress, and in several controlled studies has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation.     Caution: If you are already prone to joint pain, starting an exercise program without professional advice is asking for trouble. Done right, exercise will become your ticket to a healthier life. Physical therapists are experts on movement for health, so avail yourself of our expertise.

Stress: We’ve all had experience with physical responses to stress. The first time you had to give a talk to your peers, you probably remember sweaty palms,  a racing heart, and hands that shook as you tried to use the laser pointer. Over time, stress creates many unwanted physical effects, including smoldering inflammation. Yoga, meditation, walks in nature, or BodyTalk can make a huge difference in stress induced inflammation.

Toxins and Allergens:  Be alert to foods or products that make your immune system go nuts.  Identify substances that trigger an immune response by doing a little detective work.  Watch for watery eyes, coughing, increased aches and pain as signs of inflammation and then see what happens when you avoid exposure. Some of us are better detoxifiers than others, but everyone suffers from prolonged exposure to toxins. Consult with an allergist if you are having trouble identifying triggers.   

Be proactive.

  • Have all new injuries evaluated and treated soon to heal faster, and avoid secondary problems.
  • Ask an expert to develop an exercise routine to suit your needs. See side bar. ****
  • Include systems such as Body Talk, Acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling to ensure mind/body healing and consider components of chronic inflammation that traditional medicine doesn’t address.

Discover what you can do to improve your health on all levels. A solution is waiting for you.


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