Whether you are recovering from an injury, surgery, or a virus, you can be sure that inflammation, blood flow, and specialized immune cells have played a role in your discomfort and recovery. The human body has extraordinary healing abilities, but sometimes they have to be nurtured to work at their best. Here’s what you should know about how your body heals and what you can do to support it.
Inflammation Isn’t All Bad
Inflammation gets a bad rap. It can lead to swelling, pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms. It also plays an important role in the healing process. The body’s inflammatory response is complex. The key thing to understand is that appropriate inflammation is helpful, while inappropriate inflammation is harmful. What does that mean? Well, when you have an injury, say a surgical incision, your body will send blood and immune cells to the area, and inflammation will result. This is a good thing. Specialized cells repair tissues, kill germs and stop blood loss. There can be too much of a good thing, however. If the body has an overly robust inflammatory response, this can hinder blood flow and slow the healing process. You will also experience more pain.
When you catch a cold, your body will also react with an inflammatory immune response. This can cause some of your symptoms like fever, fatigue, and muscle aches, but it is also fighting the virus so you can heal. Sometimes the body’s immune system reacts to something that’s not harmful, like pollen or even your tissues. These autoimmune responses cause an unhealthy type of inflammation that damages the body.
The bottom line is that inflammation can be your friend, but it’s important to encourage the right amount and types of inflammation. Eating a healthy diet full of antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables can mitigate unhealthy inflammation. When you are injured, therapies like massage or cold laser treatments can reduce excess inflammation and increase blood flow to the area.
Blood Flow Is Key
As you may have noticed in the above section, blood flow plays a huge role in healing. Your blood contains many specialized cells that help repair tissues, clean up debris, control bleeding, and prevent infection. Your body rushes blood to injured areas, and the repair process begins as these cells are set to work. You may notice pain, swelling, and heat in the injured area. These are all signs that your immune system is working to repair the injury.
You can think of the tissues in your body as living in a city. Some of them live close to the main highways and have good access to blood flow. Others live on the outskirts and have trouble getting the blood flow they need. Tissues like tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, and joints tend to not receive as much blood flow as muscles and organs. These tissues can be slower to heal and can sometimes suffer from a stalled healing process. This means that they don’t move past the initial inflammatory stages of healing. Instead of completing the process with new healthy tissue, a low level of inflammation persists, and injured tissues don’t fully mend. A stalled healing process is one of the most common causes of chronic musculoskeletal pain. If you’ve injured an area that struggles to receive blood flow, it’s important to give supportive care that encourages blood flow and healing.
Healing Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint
There are four major steps in the healing process:
The first two stages happen quickly after an injury occurs. They involve blood clotting and the production of immune cells that begin cleaning up the mess. Stages three and four involve the building and strengthening of new tissue. It typically takes two to three weeks to get through stage three of the healing process, but in more severe injuries, it can take longer. At this stage, new tissue is present, but it is tender and unable to do the things it needs to do. The remodeling stage is the process of organizing this new tissue so that it becomes strong and functional. This stage can take anywhere from weeks to a year to complete.
It’s important to understand this healing cycle so you can avoid reinjuring yourself. Most reinjuries happen during stage three. At this point, the inflammation has gone down, and the pain is mild or gone. It’s tempting to get back to normal activities or end your treatment plan early. But during this stage, the new tissue is very delicate and not yet functional. It is easily reinjured, and it may still require some assistance to remodel successfully. The rule of thumb for most injuries is to wait twelve weeks before putting serious strain on the injured area, but your injury may heal more quickly or take longer. Your healthcare provider can give you guidance about returning to normal activities.
If your injury is sore or inflamed past the expected time frame, it may need some assistance in healing.
How To Support the Healing Process
As chiropractors, many treatments we offer focus on encouraging blood flow and supporting the healing process. Spinal decompression therapy does this for injuries involving the spinal discs and joints. Massage increases circulation throughout the body and is especially helpful for muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries. Increased blood flow is also the main mechanism behind cold laser therapy. In this case, the red and near-infrared light stimulates cells to produce collagen (a key part of steps three and four of the healing process) and brings blood flow and immune cells to the area.
Tendon and ligament injuries are some of the trickiest to heal. They often take much longer than muscle injuries or even broken bones. If you have a tendon or ligament injury or you’ve just undergone surgery to repair such an injury, supportive treatment is vital to prevent chronic pain. Cold laser therapy is extremely effective in reducing excess inflammation, increasing healthy blood flow, and reducing pain from these injuries.
Help with Healing in Kentucky
At All Star Chiropractic, we offer a range of treatments that encourage a healthy healing process and prevent chronic pain. Schedule a consultation today to find out how we can help you heal faster.