Update May 26th, 2015
There has probably been multiple times in your life when you’ve smacked your toe or bumped your head to see the area become a slightly red, painful, and swollen. Maybe you may have been diagnosed with osteo or rheumatoid arthritis and you’re experiencing painful swollen joints? In all of those instances inflammation plays a significant role. You may here that word tossed around often, but what exactly is inflammation?
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a composition of different mechanisms that are activated by the body in response to tissue injury[note]Thibodeau, G. 2006. Anatomy and Physiology, fifth edition. Mosby Inc pg 142-143[/note]. Basically it is a chain of events occurring due to damage of the cells. The Roman physician Celsus established four cardinal signs of inflammation which are:
- Redness (Rubar) – Due to increased blood flow and collection of blood at the site following injury.
- Heat (Calor) – Increased blood flow in the area causes an increase in temperature. That is why the area may feel warm to the touch.
- Swelling (Tumor) – Edema, which is accumulation of fluids, occurs in the area that is affected. This includes tissue debris and inflammatory exudate, which is a collection of body fluids and inflammatory components.
- Pain (Dolar) – Substances such as histamines (chemicals in the body that are sent out when the immune system reacts), serotonin (affects mood), and kinins (proteins in the blood that affect blood pressure) are released into the area that is injured and causing feelings of pain.
When the injury occurs, first there is constriction of the blood vessels, then dilation, or expansion of the blood vessels. Compounds and different components in the blood leak out due to the increased ability for these material to permeate, or flow through in between blood vessel walls.
White blood cells begin collecting at the site of injury. White blood cells engulf or consume the bacteria in a process also known as … you ready? Phagocytosis (phag-o-sai-toh-sis …thanks to dictionary.com for the pronunciation)[note]Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/phagocytosis[/note]. When dead white blood cells begin collecting at an area that has become infected, it is called pus, which is term you may be familiar with. It is our body’s natural way of fighting bacteria and preventing further damage.
NSAIDs (NonSteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are used conventionally to reduce inflammation and pain. They help to block 2 enzymes called cyclooxygenase, or COX-1 and COX-2, which release chemicals in the body called prostaglandins which promote the inflammatory process. COX-1, however, creates prostaglandins that support platelet function and protect the stomach [note] Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) (cont.). 2015. Retrieved May 26th, 2015 from http://www.medicinenet.com/nonsteroidal_antiinflammatory_drugs/article.htm[/note]. Drugs that hinder this enzyme may cause an increase the risk of bleeding or ulcers which may also be potentially fatal, especially in elder adults [note] Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) (cont.). 2015. Retrieved May 26th, 2015 from http://www.medicinenet.com/nonsteroidal_antiinflammatory_drugs/page3.htm [/note]. Other side effects of NSAIDS may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, kidney and liver failure [note] Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) (cont.). 2011. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://www.medicinenet.com/nonsteroidal_antiinflammatory_drugs/page2.htm#side%20effects[/note].
Inflammation and Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine we look at inflammation in a couple of ways. Meridians are considered superficial highways that connect the outer portion of the body to the internal organs. When these areas become blocked, this impedes the flow of energy and symptoms can be manifested in pain, redness, and swelling. This can also affect other parts and functions of the body since everything is interconnected as one. For instance, increased pain and blood flow could affect your mood, making it easier for you to become angry, thus releasing more stress hormones into your body which may have an affect on your autonomic and cardiovascular system.
An acupuncturist may identify inflammation as what we call bi-syndrome, particularly heat bi. This primarily affects the joints, being associated with redness, pain, and swelling[note] C Xinnong. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibution, , 1999. Page 474-477[/note]. Certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis may fall under this category. As acupuncturists we examine the tongue and pulse along with other signs and symptoms to gather a better idea of the main organs affected by the injury. Some diagnostic signs manifest more prominently on the tongue than pulse and vise versa.
Acupuncture has been shown in studies to have positive anti-inflammatory effects, such as being able to increase vasoactive intestinal peptides, a molecule that has anti-inflammatory properties that is released in the body[note]He TF, Yang WJ, Zhang SH, Zhang CY, Li LB, Chen YF. 2011. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 290489. Epub 2010 Sep 14.[/note]. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce edema and inflammations in animal studies[note]Li A, Lao L, Wang Y, Xin J, Ren K, Berman BM, Tan M, Zhang R.2008 Electroacupuncture activates corticotrophin-releasing hormone-containing neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalammus to alleviate edema in a rat model of inflammation.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 May 12;8:20.[/note].
Ultimately as acupuncturist we diagnose and treat each individual according their own physiological disharmony and create a treatment plan best fitted for them to live in balance with their environment. We use a combination of therapies such as herbs, cupping, acupressure, gua sha (a therapy of Traditional Chinese Medicine used to induce inflammation to improve the circulation and flow of qi), breathing, and mind/body exercises to clear heat from the affected areas and improve circulation.
Foods for Inflammation
There are different foods you can incorporate into your daily meal plan to help reduce inflammation such as blueberries, avocados, chards, salmon, and walnuts[note]Jegtvig, S. 2011. Anti-Inflammatory Foods. Retrieved January 29th, 2012 from http://nutrition.about.com/od/dietsformedicaldisorders/a/antiinflamfood.htm 7.[/note]. Cherries, berries, and green vegetables not only with help inflammation but will also improve your digestive system, provide you with more energy, and help you feel 10 times better. Unsaturated fats may also play a role in helping to reduce tissue inflammation as well[note] Cintra DE, Ropelle ER, Moraes JC, Pauli JR, Morari J, de Souza CT, Grimaldi R, Stahl M, Carvalheira JB, Saad MJ, Velloso LA.. 2012. Unsaturated Fatty acids revert diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation in obesity.PLoS One. Epub 2012 Jan 18. [/note]. Be sure to avoid greasy junk foods and eat more nutrient dense, fresh, organic foods to aid your body in the healing process.
Hopefully this helps you to better understanding your body the magnificent ways in how we function!
Carlo St. Juste II, MAOM has a background in acupuncture with over 10 years of clinical experience and over 16 years in the Martial Arts. He has worked with various organizations to implement employee wellness programs including The City of West Covina, The City of Brea, Broadcom, USC, American Suzuki, and Pomona College. He is dedicated to promoting integrative health and has seen the benefits of knowledge and implementation first hand.