Alternative Ways to Reduce Inflammation
-By Christy Hall, PTA, CHC, BS; Employee of CPR Physical Therapy+Performance
Do you suffer from swelling in parts of your body due to either a surgery or arthritis? Do you feel like you are elevating as much as possible, and the swelling still persists? Inflammation is defined by the dictionary as “a local response to cellular injury that is marked by capillary dilatation, leukocytic infiltration, redness, heat, and pain and that serves as a mechanism initiating the elimination of noxious agents and of damaged tissue” (Merriam-Webster, 2023). In essence, it is when the damaged tissue in the body swells and causes redness, heat, and pain. However, what people don’t know is that there are several alternatives to decreasing inflammation besides ice and elevation. These options include foods with anti-inflammatory properties, topical creams, physical therapy modalities, and even exercise.
While there are many strict diets in existence that can be followed to decrease overall body inflammation, it is usually easier for patients to achieve success with smaller changes to their diets during “flare-ups.” A “flare-up” is when a part of the body or the whole body gets inflamed either from an injury, overuse, or a medical procedure. During this time, certain foods can be consumed that have anti-inflammatory properties that can assist with the decrease in swelling (Brody, 2022). Figure 1 lists the foods that can be consumed during a flare up that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods That Decrease Inflammation
|Figure 1: Foods that Decrease Inflammation Symptoms|
While there are foods that will decrease inflammation, there are also foods that will increase it. These foods should be avoided as much as possible as they tend to increase inflammation and its symptoms. It is important to note that these foods react differently for everyone, and it is essential to listen to your body when attempting any diet change. Foods to avoid during a flare up are listed in Figure 2 (Brody, 2022).
|Figure 2: Foods that can increase inflammation Symptoms|
Overall, most anti-inflammatory diets stress the importance of avoiding unhealthy fats, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating more fiber when suffering from swelling, redness, and pain.
Many patients may also gain some relief from swelling symptoms when using arthritis creams such as Bengay, Sombra, or Bio-freeze. These creams use camphor and menthol to cause some pain-relieving effects. These active ingredients work in different ways. Camphor is a natural oil that when placed on the body numbs and cools nerve endings allowing pain to decrease (Medical News Today, 2020). “Menthol works by causing the skin to feel cool and then warm. These feelings on the skin distract you from feeling the aches/pains deeper in your muscles and joints” (Web MD, n.d.). These creams are often described as “taking the edge off” of the pain, however, alone they will not promote healing and decrease the swelling. They must be used in conjunction with other anti-inflammatory techniques to gain the full effect of decreasing inflammation symptoms.
NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and Aleve are also common remedies for swelling and pain. NSAIDS affect the chemical cascade that occurs on a cellular level in the body to decrease the inflammation and pain. It is important that if taking these medications for long periods of time to consult your physician to reduce possible side effects. If side-effects are presenting themselves, one option may be anti-inflammatory creams. Although these still use NSAIDS, it is applied and absorbed through the skin rather than being swallowed and affecting the stomach. This may be a safer option for some patients.
Physical Therapy Modalities
Another alternative to assist with decreasing inflammation is to attend Physical Therapy, where several modalities can be used to decrease swelling and pain. These modalities will be properly dosed and administered by your Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant with respect to the individual conditions and situations that are present. Some modalities that may be used are Compression, Interferential and Iontophoresis currents, Lasers, and Ultrasound. There are also several techniques that physical therapist and physical therapist assistants can administer to decrease swelling. These methods include manual therapy techniques such as cupping and mobilizations, therapeutic massage, or the application of Kinesio-tape which can be used to decrease inflammation in certain parts of the body.
Although there is a period where rest and healing should occur, there is also a time to start moving the area that is swollen and inflamed. Seeking out a physical therapist, who is a movement expert, a patient may be able to decrease their pain and inflammation with gentle exercise. These exercises can range from passive movements, where the PT/PTA moves the affected body part through a range of motion, to active motions. It is important to have properly dosed exercises as doing too much can cause more inflammation and performing too little will not have an effect on the symptoms.
It has been proven that exercising allows the body to produce more antioxidants that in turn fight the free radicals in your body that cause inflammation. When you exercise regularly, your body will assume that you are going to stay active, and it will produce more antioxidants. This is one reason why exercising can make your body forget your age (ASN, 2020).
Exercise is also good at keeping the joints in your body from “freezing” and getting stiff. By performing small exercises, the joint tissues will remain healthy and ready for normal movement once everything has healed. Exercises also has several other benefits such as producing endorphins to help improve a patient’s mood and promote sleep. Both of which are important when having to deal with pain.
As movement experts, physical therapist and physical therapist assistants are often able to work with their patients to find which techniques would be most effective in treating inflammation. At CPR Physical Therapy + Performance the therapist will work individually with each patient to discover which techniques and applications will get them better faster.
If physical therapy is not an option of you there are several websites in which more information can be found. These websites include the arthritis foundation website found at www.arthritis.org. This website is a good resource for nutrition, alternative therapies, and even basic exercises. Another website is www.cprtherapy.org. This website houses a “find your pain” link in which symptoms can be researched and articles about the pain found can be read based on the dynamics you entered.
Whether in person, virtual, or independent alternatives to inflammation do exist. When armed with the right education and tools, we can treat our bodies better and more successful in returning to do what we love to do.
ASN. (2020, May 22) Ways That Exercise Decreases Inflammation. Asianetindia.com, NA. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A624638703/STND?u=uphoenix&sid=ebsco&xid=ecc4c364
Brody, B. (2022, November). Natural Anti-Inflammatory Diet. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/anti-inflammatory-diet-road-to-good-health
Medical News Today. (2020, May). Camphor oil: Types, uses, and products. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/camphor-oil
Merriam-Webster. (2023, April). Inflammation. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inflammation
Web MD. (n.d.). Pain Relieving (Menthol) 5 % Topical Patch Dermatological Irritants-Counter-Irritant Formulations - Uses, Side Effects, and More. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-168202-2099/pain-relieving-menthol-topical/menthol-patch-topical/details#:~:text=This%20medication%20is%20used%20to,in%20your%20muscles%20and%20joints.