Chronic vs. Acute Inflammation & How Laser Therapy Helps Both
Normally, inflammation is a good thing. The inflammatory response is part of the immune system, which kicks in when you have an injury or infection. Once your body has recovered, inflammation should go away. Sometimes inflammation does not go away, though, and this can lead to other health issues. Fortunately, laser therapy can help alleviate inflammation and address the underlying issue that causes inflammation.
Types of Inflammation: Acute and Chronic
There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic. People are most familiar with acute inflammation that occurs as a response to an injury. Acute inflammation causes redness, warmth, swelling, and pain around the affected tissues and joints.
Acute inflammation develops when the body sends extra fluids to a specific part of the body to protect you from harmful pathogens, prevent further damage to body cells, and wash away any foreign objects, dead cells, or debris. The fluid also contains white blood cells to fight infection, and chemical messengers that trigger physiological responses to help speed healing. When the injury or infection has healed, acute inflammation should subside and the levels of white blood cells and chemical messengers in the area should decrease.
While acute inflammation is helpful to the body and is therefore a good thing, too much of a good thing can have harmful effects. Chronic inflammation is the same immune response as acute inflammation, but chronic inflammation persists for three months or longer. In cases of chronic inflammation, the body thinks it is under constant threat, so the immune system continuously sends white blood cells and chemical messengers to the area. The white blood cells can attack nearby healthy tissue and organs to cause health problems.
The immune system and chronic inflammation can create a vicious cycle, in which each makes the other worse. As they fight off infections and injuries, white blood cells can produce free radicals, which are unstable atoms. Free radicals can damage healthy cells and cause inflammation.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow the cellular damage caused by free radicals. A healthy body has enough antioxidants to keep free radicals under control, but an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals can result in a state known as oxidative stress, in which free radicals damage healthy cells unchecked. Oxidative stress can also trigger an immune response that, in turn, produces more free radicals and an increase in oxidative stress. Environmental factors, such as pollution, can also cause excess free radicals and oxidative stress.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is associated with a number of chronic health problems, although it’s sometimes hard to tell if the inflammation caused the health problem or vice versa. For example, there is a connection between chronic inflammation and obesity. Visceral fat, which is a type of deep fat that surrounds the internal organs, releases chemicals that stimulate inflammation. The white blood cells can then attack the fat cells. The longer someone is overweight, the longer the body stays in a state of chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is also associated with other serious health concerns, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Chronic joint inflammation causes pain and dysfunction for millions of people.
Arthritis and tendonitis are two common causes of chronic joint pain. Arthritis is a condition characterized by swelling and inflammation of the joints; tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon, which is a thick, fibrous cord that attaches muscles to bones. While they can affect nearly any joint in the body, the most common sites for arthritis and tendonitis are knees, hips, elbows, wrists, and fingers.
Addressing Inflammation with Laser Therapy
Laser therapy is a type of light therapy that can reduce inflammation. In many cases, laser therapy can address the underlying cause of chronic inflammation.
Laser therapy, also known as photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), uses red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths to target affected body cells. Specifically, the light wavelengths used in laser therapy stimulates mitochondria, often referred to as the “powerhouse” of cells. These wavelengths of light boost production of energy within the cell. They also increase circulation and support the production of inflammatory mediators, which are chemicals that reduce inflammation. Together, increased energy production, improved circulation, and the presence of inflammatory mediators resolve acute and chronic inflammation naturally.
The special wavelengths of light used in PBMT are able to penetrate deeper into the body than other wavelengths. This allows the therapeutic effects of the light to resolve inflammation from free radicals, and restore imbalances associated with oxidative stress.
Laser therapy also boosts the production of collagen, a natural protein that heals wounds, prevents the formation of scar tissue, repairs existing scars, and reduces hyperpigmentation that often accompanies scars. While scars are generally harmless, the development of excessive scar tissue can trigger pain and inflammation. By boosting the production of collagen and cellular energy, laser therapy can help improve the appearance of scars and inflammation.
For more information about acute and chronic inflammation, and ways that laser therapy helps both, consult with a red light therapy provider. The earlier you start treatment, the sooner you can enjoy relief from inflammation.