Are pain and inflammation necessary for healing? Take a second and think back to the last significant injury you had–one that really shut you down. What was your first instinct? Was it to go and learn how to reduce inflammation naturally and in harmony with the body’s natural healing process? Probably not.
For most of us, it was about racing to the medicine cabinet or drug store to get rid of the pain and discomfort to get back to doing everything we want to do.
But is that really the best method for reaching our training and wellness goals? Think of it this way: if you’re driving at night, and you see warnings lights flashing up ahead, would your first thought be, “help me shoot these lights out, I want to go FAST!”
Are pain and inflammation simply nuisances to be masked, or are they doing something much more functional? Something we should stop and listen to the message they are sending? “No pain, no gain” may be a popular training cliché, but just how much is pain necessary for healing, for muscular training, and our general wellness?
In this multi-part series, we will dig in to the physiology of pain and the essential aspects of healthy pain management. We will learn how to reduce inflammation and pain naturally and support the body in its powerful healing abilities.
How Safe are Over the Counter Pain Killers?
While the sensation of pain can be an important signal that you’ve damaged something or been training too hard, it can also simply be par for the course on the road to achieving individual training and wellness goals. So you have to be discerning. When pain is always seen simply as a nuisance to be silenced, it’s easy for pain relievers to become a nasty habit.
It’s been known for a while that popping too many pain killers is harmful, but new research is indicating that shutting down the body’s pain-signaling pathway is doing even more harm than was previously thought. Frequent use has been shown to have damaging effects on muscle repair, the intestinal wall, brain chemistry, and even our body’s ability to protect itself from cancers. In our daily lives, the damaging effects of habitually using NSAIDs to alter the pain-pathway can show up as:
- muscular degeneration
- recurrent injury
- chronic soreness
- altered mood
- reduced cognitive function
- an intestinal lining that has reduced ability to absorb nutrients in food.
Not exactly the distinguishing characteristics of a peak-performer.
How Does the Body Process Pain?
People are all-too familiar with the end result of the pain process, but they typically don’t give much thought to the mechanisms of the process and necessity of pain as part of healing. So here are the basics of how muscular pain in the body happens:
When a skeletal muscle cell is damaged through injury or athletic exertion, fatty acids within the cell (called Archidonic Acids or ARAs) are triggered to send messages for the body to respond with increased blood flow to the area. This increased blood flow creates inflammation and swelling, which trigger sensations of pain.
As you know, the sensation of inflammation is often uncomfortable and, if left completely untreated, can interrupt your training schedule. But if you try and “power through” it to stay on schedule, it can land you with further injuries when nearby muscle groups overcompensate for the weakened area.
Why Pain is Necessary for Healing
So, there are no shortcuts, because it turns out that this type of inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process. To get a little more specific, the response happens in three essential phases:
- Distress Signal: ARA’s release a hormone signal (a prostaglandin) along something called the COX2 signaling pathway, which acts like a flashing beacon to the brain
- Emergency Response: The brain responds by activating the inflammatory response, which produces the sensitivity and swelling we all know and love
- Result: within the fluids surrounding the injury are restorative agents that stimulate the regeneration of cells and other parts of the healing process
Here’s the key point: we now know that if the ARAs are prevented from creating those important prostaglandin messengers and inflammation fails to occur, muscle cells degenerate rather than heal and adapt. And it turns out that ARA is essential for a lot more than just that.
Why Inflammation (ARA) is Essential for Healthy Nerves, Muscles, Gut health, and Immunity
Current research has shown the ARA fatty acid that triggers the inflammatory response is essential for a healthy nervous system, particularly for the brain and cognitive function.
ARA’s role as an inflammatory mediator has also been shown to be a key player in optimally functioning immune and muscular systems. In fact, its role is so vital for immune function and muscle development that scientists are now recommending pregnant women and newborns be given supplementary ARA to meet the needs of newly developing bodily systems (Tallima, 2018).
The inflammatory cascade, triggered by the fatty acid ARA, has been found to be essential for an optimally functioning gut lining and even for the prevention of colorectal cancer.
In the brain, ARA possesses a neuroprotective role that is an important part of its function and structural composition. In fact, scientists found that ARA, together with DHA, makes up as much as 20% of the dry weight of the brain!
Similarly, ARA has been found to make up 17% of the fatty acids found in skeletal muscle. Clearly, ARA is a vital mediator to the brain.
How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
So we can see that not all inflammation is created equal: short term inflammation is actually beneficial to the healing and repair process, but it’s been known for some time that ongoing inflammation impairs health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, scientists don’t yet fully understand how the body differentiates between restorative inflammation and degenerative inflammation, but it is clear that our bodies send distinct signals in the form of prostaglandins for these very different types of inflammation.
We also know that when the process of inflammation is tampered with as drastically as it is by the use of NSAIDs, the cascade that sends messages to restore and repair cells is shut down and regeneration is stopped. While this makes us feel more comfortable in the short term, we will eventually feel the negative effects in ways we might not be on the lookout for. The negative effects of an artificially blocked inflammatory response can surface as:
- poor nutrient absorption
- failure to reach training goals
- recurrent injury
- digestive issues
- tumor growth
So, when inflammation persists, stronger pain management options are called for to mitigate these negative effects without interrupting the process of regeneration. A healthy inflammatory response, supported through the use of whole plant medicines to ease discomfort, is better able to repair and rejuvenate the body. We need to learn how to reduce inflammation naturally, and we need to be aware of products that are now available to help us do both – reduce inflammation AND kill pain.
For this reason, Plum Dragon offers a variety of pain management options with plant solutions that possess varying degrees of anti-inflammatory potency. The all-natural anti-inflammatory agents in these products have been the mainstay in traditional Chinese medicine and their importance is being increasingly recognized by conventional medicine.
Unlike the too-potent effects of NSAIDs, the plant formulations in Plum Dragon’s products support the body’s restorative inflammatory response while still providing relief from aching muscles and tissues. Whole plant analgesics, such as the ones found in Plum Dragon’s signature blends, have been shown to help facilitate the body’s natural healing process while still providing relief from the negative symptoms of inflammation.
Plum Dragon’s formulations use centuries old Chinese medicine solutions made from the highest quality plants. The all-natural analgesics present in Plum Dragon’s topical formulas will not negatively impact the delicate balance of fatty acids along the PGE2 cascade needed for muscle repair, athletic training, gut health and neuroprotection. Plum Dragon is dedicated to supporting the body’s innate and powerful healing abilities and to teaching the world how to reduce inflammation and pain naturally and in alignment with the needs and highest benefit of our bodies.
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