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Back Behind the Wheel: Inflammation: Ouch!

Being a professional driver can be a physically demanding job. Most people do not realize how tough it actually is. On a daily basis a driver is required to pull, push, twist and lift, which may lead to various injuries.

Being a professional driver can be a physically demanding job. Most people do not realize how tough it actually is. On a daily basis a driver is required to pull, push, twist and lift, which may lead to various injuries.

Many injuries that are sustained by drivers are due to some traumatic event. Pain is experienced and it is due to inflammation. Inflammation is critical for healing and is an integral part of our body’s immune/defense system.

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to infection or irritation (injury). When you hurt yourself, there is damage at the cellular level. Any type of strain, sprain will result in pain, because the connective tissue is being irritated and/or damaged. When this occurs there is an increase in local temperature, swelling and physical dysfunction is present.

These are the characteristics of inflammation. Inflammation (in moderation) is a good thing, because it is a signal from the body informing you that something is wrong. Inflammation localizes the injury and prevents the spread of infection. The redness and the heat you experienced are due to an increase in blood flow to the area. Blood vessels dilate and there is a loss of blood plasma into the surrounding tissues. This is called edema. Have you ever sprained your ankle really badly and within a couple of minutes your ankle starts to get bigger, becomes very painful (sprained ligaments), feels warm (increased blood flow) and you are unable to move it (dysfunction)? This is the classic presentation of the inflammatory response.

With the increase in blood flow to the area, the necessary white blood cells are brought to the area to control the damage and to eliminate any type of bacteria. The goal of the inflammatory response is to prevent the spread of an infection and to prevent further injury to the affected area. As noted earlier, with inflammation there is an increase in blood flow to the injured area and dilation of the blood vessels, which stresses the surrounding tissues, slowing down the healing process. This increase in local pressure stretches the tissue and prevents scar tissue formation, which is needed to “fix” the damaged tissue. The treatment of acute inflammation due to injury can be managed using the R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) principle.

There are four important steps that need to be taken to decrease inflammation, in order to speed up the healing process. Rest is very important. Try and avoid doing any type of activity that aggravates your injury.

Ice is VERY important if not the most important therapy in managing acute injuries. Any time you injure yourself, ice should be the first modality used. Ice decreases inflammation by causing vasoconstriction of the blood vessels, decreasing the added stress on local tissue which allows healing to occur quicker. Ice also numbs the area, which decreases pain and allows the muscle to relax indirectly. DO NOT USE HEAT! Many people use heat thinking it is going to help them, but actually it does not. Unfortunately, heat is exacerbating the condition and making it worse. There is an increase in blood flow to the area increasing pressure within the blood vessels and local tissue. This causes pain and hinders the ability of the body to heal rapidly. In addition to applying ice to the injury, putting compression on the area will also help to control the swelling. By compressing the area you are essentially manually “pushing” the inflammation out of the area allowing the damaged tissue to heal. Lastly, elevation is also important. Try and keep the injured area above the heart, this helps with decreased blood flow to the injured area.

The golden rule: If you are experiencing pain the first thing you should do is put ice and follow the R.I.C.E principle.

Apply the ice for 10-12 minutes, no longer, and repeat every hour if possible for one or two days. The first few days are critical. Inflammation is a good thing if it can be controlled properly and in a timely manner. The pain that you experience is a signal to you from your body informing you that there is something wrong, which needs to be taken care of. Don’t ignore it! Take care and drive safely.

– Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 1-888-252-7327, or e-mail

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