The Single Worst Thing You Can Do to Treat Painful Inflammation

Filed in Diet & Exercise by on October 9, 2014 2 Comments

The Single Worst Thing You Can Do to Treat Painful InflammationHaving a Type A personality can be very helpful in many situations, such as at work and when starting a new project. However, this “can do” attitude and action-oriented behavior can also be counterproductive in other situations. I have already discussed how it can cause harm in managing your investments, in which case Type A’s tend to “churn” (buy and sell) their investments unproductively. Another situation where a Type A personality can do more harm than good is when treating common inflammation.

We all occasionally suffer from inflammation of a joint or muscle. In our youth, many of us hurt ourselves playing sports, the result often being a sore shoulder, twisted knee, or sprained ankle. In middle age, we overdo tasks such as yard work or painting, which can cause low back inflammation. As we reach old age, just bending over in the shower to pick up the shampoo can cause a spasm in the neck or back that lingers for weeks!

You might ask what makes me an expert on inflammation. First of all, I’m extremely old, so I have a lot of aches and pains! Also, I’ve been working out in gyms for over 40 years, and since I was born with a relatively non-athletic body structure, I have had literally hundreds of bouts of inflammation in all areas of my body. Over the years I have experimented with dozens of ways to treat painful inflammation, and have come to some very specific conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.

So what is the single worst thing you can do to treat inflammation?

Try to “fix” it.

This is the first thing we Type A’s usually do when we have an inflamed joint or muscle. We want it to go away as quickly as possible, so we think of ways to “take charge of the situation” and repair it. Based on my experience, this is highly counterproductive. All it does is make the inflammation worse, delay healing, and prolong your suffering. Inflammation is a swelling of the injured site, and any continued activation of the area just serves to make it more inflamed. So my mantra for healing inflammation is, first and foremost:

Do no added harm—leave it alone!

Here is a list of some common mistakes that will only cause to worsen joint and muscle inflammation:

  • Continuing to engage in the activity that caused the inflammation. This should be obvious. If playing tennis resulted in a sore knee, stop playing tennis for a while until the injured area heals.
  • Strengthening. I have found that some physical therapists put people on a strength program for the affected site immediately after the injury has occurred. This is a huge mistake. Strengthening may provide some longer term benefit to the injured site, but it makes sense to undertake this only after the injury has healed and the inflammation has subsided.
  • Stretching. Once again, any active manipulation of the injured site while it is still freshly inflamed will only result in increased inflammation. Save stretching for when the injured area is mostly or entirely healed.
  • Aggressive massage therapy. Deep tissue massage and naprapathic manipulation also only tend to only further inflame the area.
  • Harmful sleep positions. Since most of us spend 7 – 8 hours per night sleeping, any sleep position that aggravates the injury can be very harmful and will delay healing. Sleeping on your stomach is generally considered the worst sleep position for your neck. Also, sleeping on your side can aggravate a shoulder injury, and also hurt your neck if your pillow is too high or low. Sleeping on your back is the most healthy sleep position, with a pillow height that keeps your neck spine neutral, and with a pillow under your knees to relieve pressure on your low back.
  • Anything else that exacerbates the inflammation. Throughout the years I have been advised by many well-intentioned but misguided physical therapists and chiropractors to perform all sorts of counterproductive activities while inflammation was still present. Be vigilant in screening their advice.

So besides just leaving the injured area alone to rest and heal, is there anything else you can do to treat inflammation? Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as Advil and Alleve, taken regularly for a couple of days after onset, can help reduce swelling and pain significantly. Also, applying ice to the site can also reduce inflammation. Apply it for no longer than about 5 minutes at a time, since you are just trying to drain the blood from the swelled area. Think of it as draining water from a tub; once all of the “water” is down the drain, you are done. Don’t freeze the area by keeping the cold pack on it for too long—this would be a typical Type A mistake!

In conclusion, your ally in healing inflammation is generally not action and effort to fix it. It is simply rest and time. This might be frustrating to you as a Type A, but it actually works, and the one thing we Type A’s value even more than control and action is results!

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

Comments (2)

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  1. chris lampione says:

    Given how riddled my body has become with arthritis (and worn discs and torn muscles,) I found the article to be topical, relevant and helpful. While I know the 2 basic tenets that you effuse, the reasons not to use the regularly spouted cures was very enlightening. I really appreciate it – Doctor McIntyre.

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