A question physiotherapists hear often is, “Should I take anti-inflammatories to help my injury heal?” In order to answer this, it is helpful to understand more about the inflammatory process.
When we injure a tissue in the body (whether it be bone, muscle, ligament or tendon), it sets off the inflammatory process. The blood vessels surrounding the injured tissue become ‘leaky’ to allow fluid into the area. This fluid carries white blood cells, oxygen and nutrients. These are all needed to repair the injury. White blood cells get rid of the damaged tissue and rebuild new tissue, and they require oxygen and nutrients to do this. As a result, when you injure yourself the area swells with fluid.
The inflammatory process also causes pain. This is due to the inflammatory fluid affecting the nerves in the area, which initiates the sensation of pain. This is designed to stop you using the injured area so it can heal.
Anti-inflammatory medication is designed to slow down or stop the inflammatory process. In normal circumstances, after an injury you want the inflammatory process to occur. This is part of the way your body repairs itself, and it might slow down the healing time if you try to stop this. In most cases you are best to just protect the injured area, use ice and paracetamol to help with the pain, assist the circulation with elevation, and consult your physiotherapist as soon as possible.
So, when is it appropriate to take anti-inflammatory medication?
There are times when your medical practitioner or physiotherapist might recommend anti-inflammatory medication.
One example where anti-inflammatory medication could be helpful is if you have inflammation that has gone on too long. We call this chronic inflammation and it can occur in conditions such as arthritis. Because inflammation causes pain, anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful in reducing pain levels in this instance.
Another example of when anti-inflammatory medication might be helpful is if you need to play an important game before the injury has fully settled, and you need some relief in pain to do so. And sometimes with neck and lower back injuries you’re in too much pain to cope, and anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce the pain in the short term.
Always remember that anti-inflammatory medications have an effect on your stomach and can put an increased load on your liver and kidneys, so any long-term use should always be prescribed by your GP. Your GP or pharmacist can also advise if anti-inflammatories are appropriate to take if you are on any other medication.
Above all, it is important to remember that anti-inflammatory medication is only masking an underlying problem that is causing the inflammation.
The role of our physiotherapists at Physiotas is to identify these problems and provide solutions to help you recover or manage your condition the best way possible, to reduce your reliance on medication, and to live an active and healthy life.
About the Author:
Geoff is a Director of Physiotas. He graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from La Trobe University in 2002.
Geoff has a special interest in treating neck pain, headaches and lower back problems. He also has an interest in basketball, working with local athletes and providing expertise to local teams.
Geoff has been with Physiotas for ten years as one of the Principal Physiotherapists. Over this time he has been instrumental in the development and growth of Physiotas to become the leading physiotherapy practice in the north of Tasmania.