Inflammation is your body's reaction to an injury -- it's the protection implemented by your own internal system to thwart whatever is hurting it and thereafter to initiate healing. It can be internal or external.
Inflammation moves blood to the injury site, and there's usually swelling. And for acute inflammation, there's pain -- which isn't necessarily bad: pain keeps you from moving the injury, giving the body time to heal the site. Only problem is that pain, well, hurts.
Inflammation is needed for any wound (or infection) to heal. However, when it turns into chronic inflammation then it can become a problem, inviting disease (from hay fever allegies and heart disease to rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's). Things like diet are a consideration when fighting against chronic inflammation (more below).
Popping Pills for Inflammation
The common practice for inflammation is to pop a pill - take an aspirin, or one of the newer anti-inflammatories, the NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). You may know them as aspirin (Bayer, etc.), naproxin (Aleve), or ibuprofin (Advil, Motrin, or Tylenol). NSAIDs are used to treat inflammation, as well as combat pain and lower fever.
There's lots of talk about these pills causing lots of problems on their own, things like a bleeding stomach and ulcers. So, how to avoid them when you're fighting inflammation? Can you?
Sure. There are several natural alternatives to NSAIDs that are proven anti-inflammatories. They include (for a much longer list of herbs, spices, and foods that are natural antiinflammatories, go here):
Cayenne Pepper (Capsaicin)
You can find these creams alongside BenGay, IcyHot, and the other tubes of pain relief next to the Ace Bandage display at your local drug store. These have a small amount of cayenne pepper in them, and it's been proven that rubbing capsaicin into sore muscles and joints can stop pain.
Again, studies have shown that ginger is a very effective anti-inflammatory. In fact, some have found ginger to be more effective than aspirin (wow). Make ginger tea, buy an organic hand of fresh ginger, take a finger and peel it, then drop the peeled ginger into a pot of boiling water to steep.
Your entire diet can be targeted toward fighting inflammation. Dr. Andrew Weil outlines an anti-inflammatory diet on his web site.
Over at WebMD, Russell Greenfield, MD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discusses the impact of chronic (or constant) inflammation and how it's known to be a big contributor to certain diseases, including arthritis, as well as some cancers, as well as heart disease and possible Alzheimer's Disease. An out-of-balance diet, with too few omega-3 fatty acids, and too much omega-6 fatty acids (in other words, the processed food and fast food diet of most Americans) can cause chronic inflamation - and the person will not even know it. Eww, right?
Don't Forget RICE!
Additionally, for injuries (acute inflammation) consider the practical aspects of RICE -- you don't injest a thing. Instead, you Rest (R) the injured arm, leg, foot, whatever; you put Ice on it (I); you wrap or bandage the site, called Compression (C) and you keep the injured limb immobilized and elevated, Elevation(E).
What Happened? I Hurt My Foot on the Trail.
Okay, what brought this on? Well, fine. While on the trails with the pups, I injured my foot. While being all foot-proud about my new bouncey help-you-butt shoes, the official name of which I won't be providing but you know what I'm talking about, right?
Tendon pulled, not torn. Gonna take weeks to heal, and at first this hurt like a big dog. Now, I know all about tendons and the importance of wearing good shoes.
And I've discovered that I love ginger tea (I add an organic green tea bag to the pot, so I suppose it's really green tea with ginger). And yes, I think that the ginger has helped. Quite a bit, actually.