So we eat foods that “fight inflammation” and ice injuries to keep inflammation down. But what if inflammation is sometimes our friend?
How inflammation supports injury healing
In the case of acute injuries (assuming no infection), the swelling and pain we experience actually support the healing process. Localized inflammation makes blood vessels dilate, which allows white blood cells to easily travel into the damaged area and support healing.
If we take anti-inflammatories and use ice, we slow down the healing process by reducing the access our white blood cells have to the area. Furthermore, by icing we reduce blood flow, which is what the body uses to bring nutrients needed to create new tissue as well as carry away the waste from the damaged area. When blood flow is reduced, the damaged tissue that the white blood cells are trying to remove from the area get stuck there, joints get stagnant, scar tissue forms, and the healing process is impaired.
While it’s always a good idea to get checked out if an injury is serious or an infection is present, a natural response such as swelling serves a purpose. The main benefit of reducing inflammation and blood flow is that it reduces pain. And while that’s important, there are other options for soothing discomfort that don’t suppress inflammation and blood flow. So if we aren’t icing and reducing inflammation, what exactly should we be doing?
MEAT instead of RICE
If you look up how to handle an acute injury, you will quickly see the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compress, elevate. However, these recommendations are based on alleviating pain and swelling, not supporting the healing process.
RICE is very effective at these goals, but in focusing on pain and swelling reduction we actually slow the natural repair response. In fact, the creator of RICE is taking back his advice based upon years and years of evidence showing that RICE is not only ineffective but actually damaging in some cases. Slowly but surely modern methods of addressing acute injuries are “catching up” to the methods used by our ancestors, using another acronym: MEAT.
What is MEAT?
MEAT stands for movement, exercise, analgesics (not anti-inflammatories), and treatments (ie treatments like acupuncture, microcurrent, massage). Combining this with hot, blood moving herbs (like a ginger compress) that increase circulation to the area can support the flow of blood, which as mentioned earlier brings healing nutrients to the area and takes away the damaged tissue.
For acute injuries and ONLY on the first day, I suggest using ice with heat: alternate between cold and hot, cold and hot, cold and hot, to bring blood to the area, then send it away repeatedly to support the carrying of nutrients to the site and the carrying of wastes away. After day one, use only heat on the area. Arnica taken both orally and in an oil/cream form is also helpful, as Arnica dilates the blood vessels.
As always, please keep in mind that this article is for informational purposes only and is based on Asian Medicine theory and my own experiences in treating patients and myself.