Injuries of the lower back, legs or feet can be a source of distress for many. Prolonged pain and healing time could indicate your body is struggling to heal itself due to an underlying cause such as chronic inflammation.
Chronic Inflammation is a sign the body is under all sorts of stress which can place a great amount of strain on the natural healing processes that would normally take place. Those experiencing an extreme amount of muscle and joint pain could be doing so because their body is chronically inflamed. In this text, we will look into chronic inflammation and how we can ensure our bodies are given the best chance possible at healing the site with ease.
The list below displays diseases in which inflammation is thought to be part of, or ALL of the aetiology of the disease. The first three are autoimmune diseases. This type of disease is known to affect over 1 million Australians and is a leading cause of death in women under 65 in the Western world.
- Diabetes (uncontrolled diabetes affects healing after injury)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (bone and muscle)
- Spondyloarthritis (connective tissue disease)
- Irritable Bowel Disease
So what exactly is inflammation?
Inflammation is a state in which the body’s immune system (IS) consists of different white blood cells all specialised in destroying pathogens or foreign bodies. These white blood cells are made in the organs of the IS, these are: the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes and thymus*. The inflammatory response calls upon these white blood cells to respond to tissue injury such as when our skin breaks after a nasty fall. Acute inflammation occurs in the event your skin breaks after a fall or when your ears are first pierced for example – the site will become warmer and very red, as both red and white blood cells are rushing to heal the site. This is a great response as it means the body is doing its job to quickly heal you. In chronic inflammation however, the body’s IS thinks it is in danger when there isn’t any – here the cells of the IS attack the body’s own cells and tissues injuring that area severely. One well known condition that illustrates the effects of chronic inflammation is rheumatoid arthritis, in this condition the tissue forming the joint capsule of the knee or fingers for example is attacked by fighter immune cells – a more clear term for this condition is an autoimmune disease.
Promote health and wellbeing by controlling chronic inflammation and know how to read the signs
What are the signs of chronic inflammation?
The most common indicators are (but not limited to) the following:
- Foggy brain/ inability to focus
- Weight gain for no significant reason
- Underlying chronic disease which is not properly managed
- Mood irregularities such as depression or irritability
- Painful muscles and joints
- Lethargy or feeling tired easily
How does inflammation occur in the first place?
Causes of inflammation are thought to be (but not limited to):
- Negative stresses
- Lack of Restorative Sleep
- A diet lacking in variety
- Unresolved Emotions
- Certain Medication
Exploring each dot-point can help us further understand what is causing our symptoms and how we can take control and reduce chronic inflammation from turning into an autoimmune disease:
Stress within the Body
There are 2 types of stress that can cause inflammation, emotional stress and oxidative stress, we will firstly look into oxidative stress and touch on emotional stress under the next heading titled, “Emotions”. Oxidative stress is the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When we breathe in oxygen, our bodies metabolize this and produce energy from it – this produces free radicals. A free radical is a compound that negatively affects other molecules in the body. When we are on the go and do not take the time to give the mind and body the adequate rest it needs then we can accumulate oxidative stress.
Apart from inadequate rest, oxidative stress can occur for a number of reasons like: when we are exposed to pollutants or chemicals from the food we eat and the air we breathe; when the immune system is fighting bacteria and finally when the body is eliminating cigarette smoke and pesticides. The body’s metabolic processes are primarily responsible for keeping this balance in check.
Ways we can reduce Oxidative Stress include:
- Preventing our risk of infections
- Listening to our bodies- if you need a few breaks in the day to continue to function at your best, then take them. The best thing we can do for ourselves is give our minds and bodies the permission to rest and recoup. Go for a 30 minute walk in the park or take a nap after lunch, drink your favourite tea at the work desk, meditate for 10 minutes in the morning, listen to your favourite music for a couple of minutes before giving that presentation or spend time chatting with a friend – whatever helps your mind and body to relax will help your energy, mood and productivity immensely!
- Decrease your calorie intake without compromising your nutrition, this is achieved through consuming whole foods and dark green leafy veggies.
- Getting adequate exercise
When our emotions have not been expressed and we feel as though we’ve got pent up anger or sadness for example, this can play a very real part in flaring up inflammation. This is a form of negative stress. If we pay close attention to stress we notice that the effects of stress are extremely similar to the symptoms of inflammation, thanks to this observation we further consolidate the importance of incorporating stress management practices in our everyday routines.
To manage this aspect of our health, we can try the following strategies:
- Writing your thoughts and feelings out on a piece of paper or journal writing
- Talking with someone who is trustworthy or with your psychologist
- Engaging in an activity that inspires you to use your skills in a positive way
This is the type of sleep that is typically known as ‘high quality sleep’ and it lasts for about 8 hours per night. As we sleep, our brain is moving through the 3 commonly known sleep cycles until it reaches the 4th stage being REM sleep, it is here when the body begins to heal itself. Studies have proven that adequate sleep increases the effectiveness of the immune system and reduces inflammatory markers in the blood to almost zero.
Diet – A Key Player in Inflammation
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can greatly help if our body is suffering from inflammation, this is especially beneficial if a pre-existing chronic condition is also present. Foods that are commonly known to cause an inflammatory response are the following:
The way the food is prepared – has the food been deep fried or barbecued? Additionally some spicy foods can cause inflammation as well.
White sugar and four
Now that we know what NOT to eat, let’s explore what we CAN eat to ensure our bodies are given the best fuel possible! Diet can act as medicine and when we eat a diet that is rich in nutrients and eat in moderation, this helps in many ways including in the reduction of oxidative stress (mentioned earlier). When a problematic food is consumed, it can cause the unnecessary burning of energy to remove it from our system – this puts stress on our body which in turn causes what is known as an inflammatory flare. Foods that are highly recommended to reduce inflammation and/or prevent further damage to the body include but are not limited to:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables – whatever is in season will be most beneficial in general. Specific vegetables that you may consider include: celery, cucumber, lettuce and soybeans; and specific fruits include: blueberries, strawberries and watermelon.
- Bitter foods such as bitter melon, cruciferous vegetables and cranberries
- Natural Teas- chamomile, ginger, turmeric, rose petal and rosehip
- Whole Foods
- Non- processed foods
- Avocado, coconut or olive oil
- Fatty fish