What is inflammation?

Have you ever broken a bone or sprained your ankle? Did you notice that the area became swollen, red and warm, and it hurt a lot? Did you ever wonder what that’s all about? Today we’re talking about inflammation and what, if anything, you need to do about it.


The body has a first line of defence when it comes to injury. It senses when some sort of damage has occurred to the cells and tissues in your body and it sends fluid and a team of cells, called white blood cells, in to clean up. These cells munch up all of the debris and damaged tissue to clear the area before new cells can be made and healing can take place. Think of it like a demolition site – if you were to tear down a building, before you were able to build a new one you would need to clear away the rubble. You might even need to widen the streets to get the big trucks and bulldozers in there to do their job. That is kind of like what your body does. In response to damage, the body widens (dilates) its blood vessels and makes them more leaky than usual. This is done to allow fluid filled with nutrients and white blood cells to migrate to the damaged area, and that is what causes swelling. Without this inflammatory response, there can’t be proper healing. If you don’t do the clean up, it is much harder to build the new building.

So why is it red, warm and sore? The redness has to do with extra blood coming to the area and being visible under the skin, and it is this extra blood flow that also accounts for the warmth. The pain is due to nerve compression associated with both the damage itself, and the increased blood flow to the area. Pain is also due to chemicals that are released by the body as part of the inflammatory process. It is pain that causes you to limit movement of the damaged area and this is a protective mechanism to prevent further injury. 

Some treatment options for inflammation due to injury include:

  • Placing ice on the affected area. This is helpful for acute injuries that have happened within 48-72 hours. After this time it can be difficult to know whether it is more appropriate to apply ice or heat to the area so it is best to consult a trained professional for advice.
  • Elevating the injured part. This helps to reduce blood flow to the area which decreases swelling and pain
  • Avoiding using the damaged part in the immediate short term. This allows for a proper assessment to be carried out and prevents further injury. Long term however, resting the area is unlikely to allow for proper healing and a return to full range of motion. Your physiotherapist can help you understand which movements will help your injury to heal and which to steer clear from.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. These may be bought over the counter, or if your injury is severe you may need something prescribed by your doctor. Always be sure to have your injury seen to by a doctor if you feel you need to take medication.

Whether or not you need to take steps to bring down inflammation (like icing the area or taking anti inflammatory medications) will depend entirely on the type of injury you sustain. Some injuries are minor and can be left to their own devices to heal. Other injuries may need pain management strategies and medication. Our experienced team here at Hoppers Physio will be able to assess your individual needs and advise you about the most appropriate treatment for your injury. Using a combination of hands on treatment and exercises, our physios can work with you to fully rehabilitate your injury and improve your range of movement.

Call today on (03) 9749 5110 to make an appointment or discuss your concerns.