Let’s talk about the concept of inflammation when it comes to musculoskeletal conditions. Inflammation is frequently discussed as a “one-size-fits-all” issue, meaning inflammation is bad. The reality is that it’s much more nuanced than that.

There are times when you have to consider that there is good inflammation and there is problematic inflammation. There’s acute versus chronic inflammation. There’s also local inflammation versus systemic inflammation. These are separate issues and make the idea of inflammation and musculoskeletal care more nuanced than what most people typically think of it.

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For example, when you think of someone that has an acutely inflamed ankle or knee after an injury, that’s your body’s normal way of trying to recover from that injury. It’s pumping in cells and growth factors, leading to swelling and inflammation, and warmth is actually your body’s normal and healthy way of trying to recover from that injury. That’s a good thing. That’s good inflammation.

Now, there are times that it can be excessive, and that should be diminished, but in the majority of cases, that sort of acute inflammation is a good thing.

What’s interesting is if you end up taking medication like an anti-inflammatory that reduces that inflammation or ice or a steroid injection that actually reduces that acute inflammation, you’re actually short-circuiting your body’s normal process of trying to recover from an injury. That’s a problem, and that’s actually not necessarily a good thing.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation is when you may have a joint that is chronically swollen and inflamed. That is your body’s inefficient way of trying to use inflammation to help itself, and in that case, the inflammation is not actually improving the problem. It’s actually leading to other problems on its own, in which case resetting that joint with a regenerative medicine treatment, such as platelet-rich plasma or bone marrow-derived stem cells, can actually help improve the micro-environment within that joint and longer term improve the health of that joint as well. Therefore, chronic inflammation would be a setting that is problematic and not good.

Finally, there’s local versus systemic inflammation. Local inflammation means you’ve injured one joint, and now that area is inflamed. Whereas, with systemic inflammation the entire body is inflamed. You can see systemic inflammation in conditions such as metabolic syndrome or in certain autoimmune conditions. In that case, overall systemic inflammation is a problem, should be treated, and can also cause inflammation at a local level, such as a joint or tendon. It’s important to control the overall source of that inflammation, whether that’s with dietary interventions, exercise, supplements, sometimes medication because without controlling that systemic inflammation, you’ll drive the local inflammation as well. It’ll continue to persist. Controlling systemic inflammation is very important and essential.

With all that said, there’s nuance here when it comes to inflammation. Good versus bad, acute versus chronic, local versus systemic. We can’t just say, “Inflammation is bad.” If you understand that, you get a better handle for how to treat inflammation and how to improve your musculoskeletal system. Let us know your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

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