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Lifestyle Changes that Help Decrease Inflammation


calf muscle pain

Inflammation is a term that you may have heard of in regard to a condition or disease that you are currently dealing with, but what does that really mean?

Inflammation is not specific to one disease. It is a component of very many conditions, including immune diseases, acute and chronic injuries, infections, and allergies to name just a few. It is part of the body’s natural response to any insult and its purpose is to help with the healing process. Inflammation helps by increasing circulation to the injured area bringing to it more blood and oxygen. It also brings immune cells (white blood cells) to fight infection or foreign pathogens. Unfortunately, while beneficial, it also contributes to swelling, heat, pain, redness, and loss of function in the affected area.

Your doctor(s) may have you taking over-the-counter or prescription medications (anti-inflammatories) to manage your inflammation. Medication may be an important and vital part of treating your condition, but many medications come with side effects. Not all side effects are serious and some people on medication won’t notice any at all. What you may not know is that there are also natural remedies/modalities that can help decrease inflammation. These are by no means a substitute for the medication(s) your doctor has prescribed or recommended, however, they can help decrease your inflammation and in turn may allow your doctor to decrease your medication dose or maybe even adjust the amount of time required on a medication to achieve optimal results.

Do NOT stop taking or reduce the dose of your prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.

There are many simple lifestyle changes you can make that may decrease your inflammation and improve the associated symptoms. As an added benefit, these changes may also improve your general nutrition status and overall health at the same time. Some of these changes are listed below.

  • Increase fruit, vegetables, and fiber– these foods are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that help prevent cell damage throughout the body. A diet high in fiber helps regulate bowel function and encourages timely elimination of toxins from the digestive tract.
  • Reduce the amount of refined sugars in your diet. Sugar is not only void of nutrients, but it also sets off a cascade of inflammation in the body. This is not too concerning for a young, healthy person but if you are already struggling with inflammation, a diet high in sugar can make everything feel worse.
  • Ensure adequate water intake. Most people require approximately 2 liters of water daily. Everyone’s exact water requirements vary depending on several factors, including: activity level (active exercise-sweat), how many “watery” foods they consume (soups, stews, high water content fruit), and their general health status. Hydration is incredibly important! This is because it’s the main component of cells in the body and they cannot function properly if they don’t have adequate water. Aside from this, staying hydrated allows efficient elimination of waste through urine, stool, and sweat keeping the body “clean” and allowing the cells/organs to spend their energy on other vital processes, such as cellular regeneration and repair instead of trying to fight through loads of toxins that haven’t been cleared away effectively.
  • Regular moderate intensity exercise. Even though you may be experiencing pain and stiffness due to an inflammatory condition, it is still very important to stay active. Physical activity encourages joint lubrication, as well as maintaining muscle strength. If you allow your muscles to get weaker and stiffer from inactivity, you can expect that your inflammatory condition will feel worse. Instead, try regular, gentle exercises like yoga, swimming, walking, tai chi, or a stretching program. All of these will help keep your body strong and limber and at the same time promote a feeling of wellness, which can help keep depression or low mood that is associated with injury at bay. Aim to get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 times per week.
Physical Therapy:
  • When people talk about therapy, most of us think about its use in the treatment of pain. So, the obvious question is how does physical exercise assist in reducing inflammation? The term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) was coined and introduced into sports medicine by Dr. Robert Mirkin in his bestselling The Sportsmedicine book in 1978. From 1978 to recent day, RICE has been the most widely used principle for acute/initial injury. In 2012, we saw the emergence of new treatment theories. This new research suggests that when an acute musculoskeletal injury occurs, we must first rule out fractures, dislocations, or any other injury that requires referral for emergency medical treatment. Next, we want to decongest (remove pooled blood, fluid, and built up waste products) the injured area. This is where the lymphatic system comes into play. This system is a collection of vessels and organs that rely on movement and the flexing of skeletal muscles to circulate lymphatic fluid, which then releases waste, toxins, and extra fluid from the body. With this new research, the widely used concept of RICE has changed to one of PEACE AND LOVE– Protect, Elevate, Avoid anti-inflammatory, Compress, Educate, Load, Optimism, Vascularization, and Exercise. In summary, medial understanding is that physical exercise is one of the most important aspects of treating inflammation. It involves the use of safe and guided movement within a pain-free range that ultimately results in faster healing. Physical therapy not only uses strengthening exercises but also incorporates correct loadbearing, pain-free movement, stretching, taping, and manual therapy, among many other techniques. All of these modalities together compromise a holistic approach to treating inflammation and your therapist will tailor their approach to meet your specific needs.
  • With the increased popularity of natural healing today, the possible list of supplements is endless. Many of us find it difficult to navigate all of the information available and to decipher which supplements are actually helpful in reducing inflammation. There are two standouts for me because of their proven ability to reduce generalized inflammation without having any major side effects or contraindications.

    • Turmeric: This bright yellow spice is often used in Indian cooking. It is known for its ability to decrease inflammation, especially in muscles and joints. Some resources advise adding this cooking spice into your daily cooking to see its many benefits. I also highly recommend taking it in supplement form, which is readily available in various health food stores. It may be called turmeric or curcumin (which is actually the active ingredient). The health food store clerk will be able to direct you to products containing this “healing” ingredient.
    • Omega 3 fatty acids: This oil is a wonderful anti-inflammatory and has other health benefits, too. It is good for brain health, cardiovascular disease, and hair/skin/nails just to name a few. It can be taken in gel caps or liquid form and most are flavored so they are not difficult to take. There are many omega oils available on the market, for example omega 3/6/9, or omega 3/6. I recommend that you stick to an Omega 3 product on its own as it will be the most effective for fighting inflammation.
Sleep Hygiene:
  • Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to the habits/routine surrounding your bedtime that affects the quality of your sleep. Although sleep hygiene doesn’t directly reduce inflammation it is still an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so I have included it here. A well-rested person is much more able to handle whatever the day throws at them including the discomfort or pain that is associated with many inflammatory conditions. Adequate sleep also improves mood and enhances energy levels, which helps you if you’re experiencing fatigue or depression/low mood associated with chronic health conditions. Here are some tips to improve your sleep hygiene:

    • Keep your bedtime and wake time the same every day as much as possible, even on weekends. This allows your body to get used to a schedule and will help you to fall asleep and wakeup easier.
    • No caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime. Some claim that these substances don’t affect them but just because you don’t notice it doesn’t mean it’s not still having an effect. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and impair a good night’s rest.
    • Avoid heavy meals prior to sleep. Heavy or large meals, and greasy or fried foods not only can leave you with an uncomfortable full feeling that can keep you up, but also may contribute to acid reflux that may make it difficult to fall asleep. Avoid these foods before bed to make sure they don’t disrupt your sleep.
    • Use/Conume alcohol in moderation. Although you may feel like you fall asleep faster when you have consumed alcohol, studies show that it impairs the later hours of sleep when your body starts metabolizing it. This leads to a less restful sleep and should be avoided or at least kept in moderation before bedtime.
    • Avoid screen time before bed. The light emitted from T.V.’s, computer screens, iPads, and cell phones has been shown to disrupt our brain’s ability to settle down for sleep. This plus the fact that some of the things you are watching or reading on them may also be too stimulating or stress provoking to induce the proper state for sleep. Avoid all screen time at least half an hour before bedtime and longer is better.
    • Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Exercise is important and actually improves the quality of our sleep, but when done too close to bedtime it can be overly stimulating. It is best to do all of your heart pumping, vigorous exercise earlier in the day, or at least a few hours before you want to be asleep.
    • Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room. Temperatures between 60-67 degrees have been shown to be optimal for sleep. Use blackout blinds or an eye mask designed for sleep to prevent excess light while you are sleeping. Use ear plugs or a white noise machine to prevent outside noises from disrupting your sleep. Our body takes cues from the environment and both darkness and a decrease in body temperature signal that it’s time to sleep, and noise, well it’s just disruptive when you’re trying to sleep. All of these small changes when made consistently can make a big impact on your sleeping environment.
    • Develop a pre-bed routine. Try incorporating the same relaxing activities every night before bed. These might include: a warm bath or shower, reading a book, slow, easy stretching, or listening to quiet soothing music. Just like having a set bedtime every night signals the body to quiet down for sleep so do other calming activities when done with regularity. With a pre-bed routine you get two benefits: inducing a calm, relaxed state of mind and body and the benefits of having a routine in general.

Other: There are other natural treatments you can try, as well. Play around with them alone or try combinations of them to see which ones are most helpful for you.

These include:

  • Hot and cold therapy, using hot/cold packs or taking hot showers/baths.
  • Topicals, such as ointments and rubs containing CBD oil, MSM, capsaicin menthol or eucalyptus.
  • Epsom salts, which are actually made from magnesium sulfate. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant that when added to a hot bath will soak in through the skin providing relief for aching or stiff muscles. Add approximately 2 cups of Epsom salts to comfortably hot bath water and soak for a minimum of 20 minutes.

Dealing with an inflammatory condition of any kind can be difficult and the results of treatment aren’t always the same for everyone. But one thing I know for sure is that by cleaning up your diet, getting a little more physical activity, and maybe even adding in some other natural therapies can help you reduce the inflammation you are experiencing. These natural therapies have little to no side effects, so you really have nothing to lose and so much to gain! You will have a more nutritious diet and improved physical fitness from adding in regular physical activity, but maybe you will also see a reduction in your inflammatory symptoms and possibly improvements in other body systems, as well. Try making a few of the lifestyle changes mentioned above and see what kind of healthy, natural improvements are waiting for you.

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