Inflammation can affect any part of the body and normally occurs when the immune system reacts against a potential threat. Understanding inflammation and its effects is an important part of managing joint pain.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a process where the body’s immune response works to protect us from stress, infection or injury. When the body senses a danger, our immune system seeks to destroy the virus, chemical or foreign body by activating proteins meant to protect cells and tissues. It does this by increasing blood flow to the affected area, increasing fluid production and producing chemicals of its own that should help the body to repair itself.
What are the implications?
When the immune cells in our body start to overreact beyond what is necessary to fight a perceived infection or danger, inflammation can work against us. This can result in damage to healthy body tissue, causing joint pain.
When inflammation affects the joints it’s likely to cause:
- Unusual warmth and reddening over the affected joints due to increased blood flow
- Excessive fluid production within the joint, causing swelling and stiffness
- Irritation of nerve endings, leading to pain
What are the long term effects?
In autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation can take place without any apparent trigger. Differing from non-inflammatory joint pain, the inflammation associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can also cause severe fatigue, energy loss and general ‘flu’ like symptoms such as headaches and fever.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint problem. When the cartilage which covers the ends of the bones is damaged, (usually due to heavy use of the affected joint) pain and stiffness can occur. Though less is known about the role of inflammation in osteoarthritis, it is now recognised as a cause of flare-ups of pain in joints affected by the condition.
In either case, repeated episodes of inflammation in a joint can lead to the weakening of tendons, ligaments and muscles. The capsule surrounding the joint may become stretched by repeated swelling, affecting the stability of the joint. In the long term, this may cause tissue damage, joint deformation and pain.
Proudly supporting Arthritis Research UK.
http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/conditions/arthritis/what-is-arthritis.aspx – for more about inflammatory forms of arthritis
http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/health-professionals-and-students/reports/topical-reviews/topical-reviews-autumn-2011.aspx – for more about inflammation in osteoarthritis
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3638313/ – inflammation in osteoarthritis