How to Treat Acute Inflammation: It’s Not What You Think

Almost anyone who has played a sport or enjoyed exercise has received specific advice on treating injuries and swelling. Even for minor injuries or after coming off regular, many of us have been taught to:

  • Apply ice.
  • Get rest.
  • Elevate the injured body part.
  • Use compressive wrap.
  • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce the swelling.

Contrary to what you may have been taught, a qualified Cincinnati integrative physician will tell you that two of these remedies can be harmful or slow down healing for most injuries and soreness after playing sports. They are ice and NSAIDs, but first, explaining what happens during injury is in order.

The Facts About Injury and Healing

Consider a tissue injury, like an ankle sprain, swollen knee, or sore shoulder. Maybe the damage came from sudden action or the accumulation of many more minor injuries over time, such as tennis elbow. In response, the body triggers the injured fibroblast cells in our torn fascia and ligaments to secrete inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals swell the injured body part, clean up the injured or dead tissue, and bring about rebuilding and healing.

Applying ice and taking NSAIDs will not help. In fact, they slow this initial healing response.  Cold decreases blood flow and metabolism speed. Also, research on treating ankle sprains with NSAID medication suggests:

  • Injured ankles treated with NSAIDS experience reduced pain and return to activity faster, BUT
  • Compared with injured ankles not treated with NSAIDs, the treated ankles still tend to be unstable and uncomfortable for another six months.

What Should I Do Instead?

I recommend moist heat immediately after injury to increase circulation, boost metabolism, and heal the damaged site more quickly.  As a rule of thumb, NEVER take an NSAID to treat an injury – even over-the-counter medications.

You can still use rest, compressive wrap, and elevation for treatment; they are still good ideas and are likely to be helpful. If you are recovering from a tissue injury and need medical treatment, contact Dr. Blatman, a leading holistic provider in Cincinnati.

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