When you hurt yourself and things swell up, look red, and hurt, that’s inflammation.
I know you don’t want to read all the way through the Wikipedia article.
It’s information overload.
So let me simplify it for you:
Inflammation is how your body starts it’s natural healing and protection process.
It’s kind of like a ‘call to arms’, rounding up the troops inside you to fight the problem.
When you get hurt, your body is very keen to begin the healing process. Many important things need to happen. Blood flow to the area increases, and your immune system gets kicked into high gear. Things that shouldn’t be there, like debris, by-products, and germs are cleaned up. Healing processes begin, proteins come together, and tissue begins to rebuild. This is something your body does naturally.
Another thing that can cause inflammation is infection, which is caused by some sort of foreign body (bacteria, etc.). And just like after injuries, inflammation is a good thing; it’s how your body fights the infection.
Why does it hurt?
Inflammation also causes an increase in your sensitivity to pain. You know this if you ever sprained an ankle: it swells up, you can barely touch it to the ground and it hurts like crazy. This is a defense mechanism; it’s your body’s way of saying, STOP IT. It hurts, but even the pain is still a good thing. It’s protection!
What should I do about it?
In most cases, it should be left alone to do its thing. For instance, intense exercise can cause microscopic damage to muscles. Inflammation comes along to repair the muscle. Unfortunately it hurts, but it seems necessary to build the muscles back up stronger.
So don’t worry about it, and keep exercising. Typically, it’ll hurt less next time, and less again the next time, and so on. The best treatment for muscle soreness is surviving it, and then staying consistent.
So when is inflammation bad?
Inflammation can sometimes go a little overboard. In fact, many disorders are due to chronic inflammation that just over-reacts and won’t go away. However, it is thought that sometimes even “normal” inflammation gets a little excessive. When there is too much swelling, it starts to get in the way. It may slow circulation, slow healing, and can even damage surrounding tissues.
So, when we are injured, it’s not that we want no inflammation. Rather, we would like to control it. Therefore, for many injuries it is often suggested to use the PRICE method. This is most important in the first few days.
Just make sure you see a health professional to make sure the swelling isn’t caused by an infection… ice isn’t going to help an infection!!! read my disclaimer
Quick reference (RE: inflammation is normal): http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-10/foas-ssd100410.php
More about how inflammation is good and bad: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/inflammation-both-friend-and-foe/