Pain, Swelling and Inflammation

Understanding Pain

Nociceptive Pain Vs. Neuropathic Pain

Pain communicates that something is hurt and that our body needs extra care.

Typically, when tissues are damaged, healthy nerves relay nociceptive (pain) signals to the brain which can feel sharp, acute, and/or dull.

If the nervous system is dysfunctional or injured, it can affect transmission and create burning, tingling, and/or shooting sensations.

Our brain processes these signals and creates a perception of unpleasant sensation.

To permanently decrease pain, we must target and correct the cause, instead of treating the symptoms.

Acute & Chronic Pain

Acute pain is short-lived and is a normal response to tissue injury.

Chronic pain is long lasting (usually 3 months or longer) and negatively impact quality of life.

Pain Sensitivity

Pain sensitivity refers to a person’s ability to perceive pain. Since pain is processed in the brain, what may be slightly irritating for one individual can be debilitating for another. 

Genetics, previous trauma and experiences, psychological factors, and different medical conditions can influence pain sensitivity. With appropriate care, pain sensitivity will decrease over time. Understanding these factors and influencing them properly can mitigate the perception and pain and improve quality of life.

Understanding Inflammation and Swelling?

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to tissue injury. It involves redness, warmth, and swelling to remove harmful stimuli, irritants, and pathogens, and is the initial phase of the body’s natural healing process.

As part of the inflammatory cascade, there is a release of mediators including prostaglandins, histamine, and bradykinin. The presence of these mediators are important because they allow for increased blood flow and circulation. However, they sensitize nociceptive (pain) receptors which increase the feeling of painful and noxious sensations to areas of injury.

What is Swelling?

Swelling, also known as edema, is the accumulation of excess fluids. After acute trauma or injury, swelling is a natural part of the inflammatory cascade. While it is important to allow for the inflammatory processes to occur, swelling should be controlled to reduce discomfort in the area.

Chronic swelling is the accumulation of excess fluids over a long period of time. It typically indicates that there is an underlying medical condition that is affecting the body’s ability to control fluids. 

Physiotherapists are well equipped to manage swelling, especially after injury. However, some cases of chronic swelling should involve consult with a doctor to resolve and manage the underlying cause.

Benefits of reducing Swelling

Resolving inflammation decreased the presence of inflammatory mediators which will decrease pain sensitivity.

Swelling is very restrictive and can create discomfort with movement. The earlier swelling is resolved, the earlier the body can move normally again.

Excessive swelling creates further harm to local structures. Ending the inflammation and swelling phase means the body can begin rebuilding earlier.

Self-Management for Inflammation and Swelling

After injuries such as sprains and strains, it is important to control for inflammation and swelling. Using R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Immobilization) as soon as possible will improve and speed up healing. For serious injuries such as fractures or grade 3 sprains and strains, it is important to consult with a doctor as soon as possible. If you are unsure about the nature of your injury, see a healthcare professional.

Click here for more information on how to apply R.I.C.E.