Taking a different approach to muscle inflammation

Taking a different approach to muscle inflammation

by Natalie L 23 Feb 2020

As an athlete, you should be fairly familiar with the sensation of muscle inflammation. Nevertheless, it never fails to confer a appreciable level of discomfort. You might be thinking to yourself, “how should I deal with the pain? Is the inflammation dangerous?” While most people think that inflammation of any kind is always bad, that’s not always the case where muscle tissue is concerned!


What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a process that occurs in response to microbial invasion of our body; it fights the bad bugs and thereafter helps our body to repair the damaged cells. It is characterized by four main symptoms — pain, redness, heat, swelling and loss of function to a certain extent.


Types of muscle inflammation

Overall, there are two main types of muscle inflammation — acute and chronic. Though both of them have similar symptoms, they should not be taken to be the same. 


1. Acute

Acute muscle inflammation is generally considered to be “good” due to its protective and anabolic function in the short-term. During acute inflammation, anabolic signals are activated, which in turn stimulate myogenesis (muscle growth). This process helps athletes to build up muscle mass.


2. Chronic

Most things in moderation are good but can swiftly turn bad when dealt in excess. The same thing goes for inflammation. Instead of stimulating muscle growth (as in acute inflammation), chronic inflammation can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue instead. When the process fails to be halted by the body’s immune system, inflammation can remain active for months or years. As a result, the cells that initially combat microbes can end up attacking our own muscle tissue.


Managing inflammation

1. Get tested

First and foremost, it is critical to determine whether you indeed suffer from chronic inflammation. Some common symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, weight gain, body aches and gastrointestinal issues. If you consistently suffer from one or more of these symptoms and suspect that you might have chronic inflammation, do visit your doctor to test for markers of chronic inflammation in your blood.


2. Avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Most athletes know that NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, etc.) represent a fast and easy way to treat muscle inflammation. With this medication at their disposal, they can push through and train despite carrying the symptoms of inflammation. However, this drug can become dangerous when misused. If NSAIDs are taken excessively — especially in the absence of chronic inflammation – it can potentially inhibit tissue growth and prevent healing. As such, athletes are strongly advised against popping the pill for minor pains and instead to take a few days off to recover naturally. NSAIDs are better used when the pain at hand directly interferes with rest and recovery efforts.


3. Dietary changes

Instead of looking to medication, why not treat your inflammation naturally? Implementing dietary changes is a simple and effective method of doing so. Generally, foods rich in sugar, salt and fat content (such as meat, fried food, alcohol and processed food) were found to promote inflammation when consumed in large amounts. On the other hand, diets rich in fruits and vegetables were found to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation due to their nutrient density and natural anti-oxidative properties. Many tend to consider the Mediterranean diet or other plant-based diets due to such reasons.


Some level of discomfort is always expected when it comes to progressive and effective training. Adaptation is rarely a painless process, but we needn't fear this if we learn how to properly manage it. Of course, it is always of paramount importance that you listen to your body first and foremost. If signs point to you needing a few days off to recover, don’t push it. In the long term, your body will thank you!