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Acute Inflammation 101

Having spent three years of my career developing and implementing post-rehabilitation training programs for individuals who had been in motor vehicle accidents, which followed three years volunteering at a sports medicine rehabilitation clinic, I have seen how pain can alter one’s life in numerous ways.  It doesn’t take long for physical pain to extend its reach to your mental and emotional well-being.  That being said, I am happy to share that this month’s Health Seminar will focus on Pain and Inflammation.

I’ll start things off with a brief intro into acute inflammation, its relationship with pain, and how to manage it.  Be sure to check back next Monday for the follow-up article that will examine the trending topic of chronic inflammation!


To help illustrate acute inflammation, let’s go back to the not-so-pleasant last time you stubbed your toe, cut your finger, or took a fall.  A few things probably happened to the injured region soon after the trauma occurred: it got red, swollen, warm, and probably painful (these are the cardinal signs of acute inflammation).  As unpleasant as it may have been to have all those symptoms occur after the accident, the process of acute inflammation is a normal, protective immune response that allows our bodies to begin the healing process following physical trauma or infection.

The redness and heat reflect an increase in blood flow to the region.  This blood is rich in substances that are going to help kick-start the healing process and flush out anything that shouldn’t be there (damaged/dead tissue, bacteria, or foreign substances).  As the immune substances leave your blood and enter the affected tissue, swelling occurs and this can contribute to an increase in pain.

Acute inflammation occurs to varying degrees following any form of trauma (injury, surgery); it can also occur with an infection, but we’re not going to go there as the treatments are different.  Acute inflammation due to physical trauma is clasically treated using the R.I.C.E. approach:


  • Take time to allow the healing process to run its course unobstructed and to avoid further damage to the injured site


  • The application of an ice pack as soon as possible following the trauma will help to reduce the amount of swelling and will also help manage any associated pain
  • To avoid tissue damage, ice should not be applied directly to the skin – apply over gauze, a thin towel/cloth, or a thin layer of Vaseline
  • For the first 24-48 hours, ice can be applied for 20 minutes of every hour; try for three times a day at the very minimum
  • My Athletic Injuries Professor in undergrad shared the 10-10-10 protocol (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on), which I have personally found to be effective


  • An elastic compress/wrap can help to keep swelling down, which will ultimately help to reduce pain


  • If possible, elevate the injured area above the level of the heart to help reduce swelling
  • Do not do this if movement in this manner causes pain

In the past, you may have taken a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID), like Ibuprofen.  According to the Mayo Clinic, 70% of patients 65 years of age or older use NSAIDs at least once a week.  These formulas will definitely help reduce the inflammation, but can have adverse effects in the upper gastrointestinal tract and on blood clotting (with regular use).  There is also new research demonstrating that NSAID use in early pregnancy increases risk of miscarriage.  Speak to your Naturopathic Doctor for more information.

There are a lot of options, beyond R.I.C.E., when it comes to managing acute inflammation from a Naturopathy standpoint:

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal remedies
  • Nutritional considerations
  • Homeopathy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Manual therapy
If you would like more insight into these treatment options and the pros and cons of NSAIDs, be sure to attend this month’s Health Seminar!

If Pain Persists or Gets Worse

If symptoms do not improve after three days, contact your doctor or go to an emergency room to assess the severity of the injury.

  • Canadian Red Cross First Aid & CPR Manual. Guelph, ON.: Canadian Red Cross Society., 2006. Print.
  • “Mayo Clinic.” Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2012. <>.
  • Guyton, Arthur C., and John E. Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2000. Print.