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How inflammation can be good for the body

Common inflammation control techniques such as ice baths and injections might not be as beneficial as letting your body naturally heal, health experts say

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A sauna is pictured in this stock image.

A sauna is pictured in this stock image. Common inflammation control techniques such as ice baths and injections might not be as beneficial as letting your body naturally heal, health experts say.

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When a ligament or tendon is strained or torn, it triggers the beginning of an inflammation sequence. In the sequence, an influx of fluid and inflammatory cells arrive to the injured area to remove and rebuild damaged tissues, per National Geographic.

This inflammatory process is essential to healing, but it can be painful. Trending inflammation control techniques such as ice plunges, saunas and shots have become more widely used within the past decade as more individuals try to lessen the discomfort, according to National Geographic.

Study results on control techniques are all over the map. Some have found benefits, others no effects and still others harmful outcomes.

Inflammation control techniques and study results

Injections

In injection treatments for inflammation, platelet-rich plasma, or PRP, injections are used to speed up the healing process of musculoskeletal injuries. The injections, consisting of blood cells known for their clotting and tissue healing abilities, as well as plasma, are made out of the patient’s own blood, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In a mass study, researchers administered PRP injections across eight different specialties: cardiothoracic surgery, cosmetic, dermatology, musculoskeletal, neurology, oral maxillofacial surgery, ophthalmology and plastic surgery. Sixty-one percent of the studies found PRP injections to be favorable, according to a study published in PLOS.

Per National Geographic, the compiled studies only detailed one-third of the PRP formulations used and measured outcomes differently, making comparison difficult.

Dean Wang, an orthopedic surgeon and co-author of the study, told National Geographic, “The practice (of PRP injections) is far outpacing the science. But our science is good enough to show that there’s some promise with these treatments. For mild to moderate degeneration or knee arthritis, these things are worth trying if you’ve tried some other things and they don’t work.”

Injections may later include adult stem cells to help regenerate damaged tissue, but its not clear if the effects are positive or a placebo, noted Wang.

Cold exposure

Ice plunges, cold showers and other cold exposure techniques are a natural way individuals try to decrease pain and mental health issues, according to National Geographic.

According to a study published by PubMed Central, voluntary cold-water immersion, or CWI, had significant effects on physiological and biochemical parameters. CWI seemed to reduce or transform body tissue, reduce insulin resistance and improve insulin sensitivity. But the study was performed in small groups of one gender with different temperatures and salt compositions of the water.

Other studies reported that cold saline could reduce inflammation in animals and ice baths could reduce inflammation in men after exercising. But the results were not statistically significant, and, more specifically, did not change muscle soreness in the men, per National Geographic.

Joseph Cosello, an exercise and environmental physiologist at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., said cold exposure might interfere with the inflammatory processes, possibly increasing inflammation and counteracting muscle gain.

“There’s more evidence coming out on an annual basis. But there are still only a handful of research studies that are supporting the effectiveness of cold therapy for reducing the inflammatory response,” he said to National Geographic.

Heat exposure

On the other side of the spectrum, heat exposure, such as hot-tubbing, sauna use and other techniques, are said to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression and suppress inflammation, per National Geographic.

In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, researchers found that inflammation decreased in diagnosed heart failure patients when they bathed in hot springs over a two week period. In women with polycystic ovary syndrome, 30 one-hour sessions of being in a hot tub over 10 weeks reduced inflammation, as well.

Chris Minson, environmental physiologist and co-author of the above study, found that, overall, taking anti-inflammatory medication or using other techniques (such as injections and temperature exposure) can be dangerous if they impede the inflammatory process.

“Inflammation is super important for the for the healing process. By knocking it back, it’s not necessarily a healthy thing,” he said to National Geographic.

Before attempting inflammatory techniques, talk to your doctor to see how your body might be affected.