Everyone experiences swelling and inflammation throughout their lifetime. Often, it is due to an infection or injury and only lasts a couple of days to a week. In these specific cases, inflammation is important because it is our body’s way of protecting and healing itself. Unfortunately, if you have chronic inflammation—that which persists over a long period of time—despite its best intentions, the inflammation ends up causing more harm than good.
Swelling and inflammation are simply the immune system’s response to any type of harmful stimulus. Such stimuli can range from damaged tissue as a result of rolling your ankle to a bacterial infection to the common cold. When there is danger somewhere in the body, the immune system springs into action and increases blood flow to the affected area. The blood carries various nutrients necessary for healing.
Sometimes swelling and inflammation are visible to the naked eye, like when you get stung by a bee and you get a big red bump at the site of the sting. Other times, inflammation and swelling occur deep within the body and are only evidenced by the pain associated with them.
Swelling is the enlargement of a part of the body—organ, skin, or other tissue—and is usually caused by inflammation. Depending on the cause of swelling, it is accompanied by various other sensations including itchiness, nausea, vomiting, pain, dizziness, fever, and fatigue.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation typically has a rapid onset, meaning it happens quickly and severely in a specific part of the body. Eventually, acute inflammation will die down and everything returns to normal. If you get hit by a baseball, you will likely have acute inflammation where the ball made contact, but after a few days or weeks you will return to normal.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, lasts a long time—many weeks, months, or even years. If chronic inflammation is left untreated, it can shift from just a symptom to the trigger point of many other maladies.
Either way, acute or chronic, inflammation is typically associated with pain, swelling, stiffness or decreased mobility, redness of the skin, and warmth.
The immune system is a series of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against infection. An immune response is a series of biological and chemical reactions which occur in response to a stimulus or irritant. When tissues of the body are damaged because of this irritant, the damaged cells release three types of chemicals: histamines, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. When the surrounding blood vessels come in contact with these chemicals, they release fluid into the tissue, also known as swelling. The idea is that the fluid isolates any type of foreign substance (the irritant) from contacting any other tissues. Then white blood cells are attracted to the area to “clean up” or remove waste. They essentially eat the germs and damaged cells. The cleanup is characteristic of inflammation as opposed to simple swelling.
Acute inflammation and swelling is typically due to either trauma that damages the tissues in the form of an injury or infection (bacterial or viral). While acute inflammation is important for maintaining a long, healthy life, chronic inflammation can contribute to a number of different diseases.
Chronic inflammation and swelling is usually due to a pre-existing disease or condition, or an imbalance somewhere in the body. In order to conquer inflammation, you must start at the source.
Inflammation like you experience with, say, arthritis, is typically due to an imbalance of the musculoskeletal system. The body is designed with a specific alignment such that when you are in proper alignment, there is just the right amount of space in each joint so the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves that pass through the joint have room to function efficiently. When you have poor alignment, some joints get compressed, and the space in the joint decreases. Decreased space in the joints compresses the nerves, muscles, and tendons and causes friction between bones. Where there is friction, there is inflammation. The body triggers an inflammatory response to repair damaged cells and remove dead ones. In order to cut down on the inflammation, you must first address the alignment issue.
Additionally, certain types of food or drink are considered inflammatory, meaning they exacerbate inflammation.
- Equalize your weight. Notice your sit bones, those protruding bones in the middle of your buttocks, and how you distribute weight on them while seated. Sit in your office, kitchen, or living room chair, and ask yourself, “Is there more weight on my right sit bone than my left, or more weight on my left sit bone than my right?” If the answer to either question is yes, take time to fidget until the weight is evenly distributed. Memorize that feeling of equalizing your weight on your sit bones, and remind yourself to find that equalization each time you sit. By equalizing your weight, you decrease stress on the joints and prevent unnecessary inflammation.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. Eating highly processed, inflammation-inducing foods may contribute to worsening inflammation in the body. Fried foods, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates are just a few of the foods to avoid. Make whole foods 95 percent of your daily diet, leaving junk food for special occasions. Focus on eating and cooking more anti-inflammatory foods to decrease unnecessary inflammation and swelling.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking leads to a high white blood cell count, indicating that the body is working on overdrive to keep the body free from infection, while also depleting nutrients from your blood. This means your immune system is constantly triggering inflammatory responses, but the healing is slowed as the blood cannot deliver the nutrients your body needs. Add to that the inflammation in the lungs caused by the smoke itself! By not smoking, you eliminate a huge source of inflammation in the body.
1. Ground the feet. Press the bases of all ten toes and the heels into the floor, and equalize the weight distribution between the bases of toes and heels. Now, equalize the weight between the right foot and the left foot. Feel the earth supporting you. The feet are the base for support of the entire body.
2. Soften the jaw. Move the mandible—the jawbone—from side to side, open and close the mouth, or gently massage the hinge of the jaw to release jaw tension. By routinely practicing softening, the jaw tension in the face decreases, which can alleviate conditions and maladies such as headaches, TMD, and teeth grinding. Consciously softening the jaw throughout the day encourages the jaw and the overall face to be more relaxed.
3. Nourish the spine. Lubricate the vertebrae by bringing the spine into flexion and extension. Sounds complicated? It’s not! Come to hands and knees, with wrists under shoulders and knees under hips, in All 4s. Round spine and set gaze to navel. This is spinal flexion. Arch spine and set gaze high. This is spinal extension. You’re nourishing your spine by enhancing the flow of spinal fluid to the spine, effectively increasing your range of motion and ease of overall movement.
One of the best strategies for dealing with inflammation is the age-old RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. Ice, compression, and elevation all help to minimize inflammation to the affected area, while resting gives the immune system the time and space to do its job.
Additionally, take a bath with Epsom salt and lavender oil. Epsom salts soaked in water releases magnesium sulfate. During a bath, the magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin to help reduce inflammation. Lavender oil promotes the relaxation of muscles. Together, the two are a powerful tonic to aid in healing. Simply add a cup of Epsom salts and two or three drops of lavender oil to a warm—not hot—bath, and enjoy!