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What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a biological response triggered by the immune system.

When irritants or pathogens are damaging cells, the immune system signals the inflammatory response. Infections, wounds, and any tissue damage would not be able to heal without an inflammatory response.

Inflammation is the body's first line of defense against harm. It is the body's attempt at self-protection to begin the healing process. This process is called acute inflammation. Acute pain results from, say accidentally hammering your thumb, or strenuous exercise that gives you sore muscles.

Long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years is called chronic inflammation. Chronic pain tends to be cold and stagnant. Chronic inflammation left untreated can eventually cause several diseases and conditions. Chronic inflammation results from the body's failure to eliminate the cause of acute inflammation.

What you perceive as "pain" is largely caused by inflammation. In your body, inflammation is a lot like fire. Short bursts of inflammation play an important role in your body's healthy functioning; drawing attention to a problem area, and telling you to give it a rest until the situation improves. In this way, inflammation works to speed healing.

Unfortunately, many factors common in the American lifestyle feed the fire, causing inflammation to flare up out of control, with potentially devastating effects.

Excessive or long-term inflammation can ultimately damage tissue, impair function, and put you in a chronic state of pain. When inflammation begins to get out of control, it can set off an inflammatory cascade, with each aspect of irritation initiating a new round of inflammatory response and unpleasant symptoms for you -- not only pain but also, for example, an increased risk of heart disease and cancer and susceptibility to infections.

Conventional medicine is relatively good at turning down pain volume. Prescription pain medications work hard to stop the pain response; however, they can also come with a host of dangerous side effects and a risk of addiction.

TAKE A STEP BACK AND ASK -- as we should do with any health concern -- why is this happening? Pain isn't really your enemy. It's a signal. Your body uses pain to tell you something is wrong. An injury or imbalance creates inflammation in your body, and your nerves communicate the pain to you, saying "Stop. Rest. Let it heal, and change whatever you've done to create this issue in the first place."

Think of pain as a helpful taskmaster: it lets you know what work needs to be done to correct an imbalance. If you address the underlying cause holistically, you can often eliminate or drastically reduce pain with very little likelihood of side effects. In fact, you'll probably improve other areas of health as well, because that's how holistic medicine works!

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