If you're interested in health, you've probably heard about inflammation, and different things you can try to reduce it in your body. But it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint what, exactly, inflammation feels like on a day-to-day basis. For example, is your stomach hurting because of inflammation, or is it just your lactose-sensitive body being upset that you had grilled cheese for lunch? According to experts, there are a number of types of pain caused by inflammation, and they have some tips for identifying them and treating them.
At the onset of a pounding headache or after a long workout, you might immediately reach for over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen. "Sparing use of these drugs can help sometimes," Kiran F. Rajneesh, MD, MS, director of the neurological pain division and assistant professor at the department of neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. "However, long-term, continued use of these medications can lead to gastric ulcers, high blood pressure, liver dysfunction, etc." he says. A good rule of thumb is to check in with your doctor if you find yourself taking these pain medications more than about four times a month. This might be a sign that you need a little more help managing your pain and finding its root cause.
Here are some everyday pains that might actually be due to inflammation in different parts of your body, according to experts.
1. Joint Pain
"Inflammatory pain tends to pop up in unusual areas at unusual times," functional medicine expert Elroy Vojdani MD, IFMCP, tells Bustle. "For example, if you wake up first thing in the morning with knee pain and stiffness, that's inflammatory." You'll be able to tell if it's actually just everyday joint pain if the soreness follows intense exercise or some kind of injury, he says. But if you haven't done anything that might explain your joint pain, inflammation might be the cause.
2. Muscle Pain
In the same way that joint pain can be caused by either inflammation or by a more everyday cause, muscle pain can too, says Dr. Vojdani. If you haven't done anything that could have led to muscle pain, inflammation might be to blame. "Diet is a powerful influence on total body inflammation," he says. "Eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, like wild-caught seafood, chia seeds, walnuts, berries, avocado, green tea and olive oil, is a great start."
3. One Swollen Spot
"Chronic inflammation is persistent inflammation that has gotten out of control and can cause damage to your body’s tissues that lead to a variety of diseases," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, tells Bustle. Extra warmth, swelling, and redness in one area of the body can be a sign of chronic inflammation, she says.
4. Chest Pain
If you've been sprinting for several minutes and your heart feels like it might beat out of your chest, that's probably pretty common pain. But more serious chest pains, which are one symptom of heart disease, are actually influenced by your inflammation levels, says Wood. "If you’re having issues with your heart, you [may want to change up what you eat], increase your activity level, and not smoke," she says.
5. Pain In Your Extremities
You might have one tricky pinky finger or toe that seems to be stiff and achy on a regular basis. But a problem like this might not just be a weird quirk of your body. Arthritis pain is actually due to inflammation, Jonathan Steele, RN, executive director of Water Cures, tells Bustle. Red light therapy might be helpful for targeting finger inflammation, he says. Just try shining a red light on the painful spot for about four minutes and see whether it decreases your pain level.
6. A Sore Throat
Even something as common as your basic sore throat is a pain that is due to inflammation, says Steele. Depending on the severity of the problem, you may need to see a doctor, but he recommends trying zinc lozenges. "The zinc kills whatever is in the throat and the sore throat is gone within hours," Steele says. Just make sure not to eat citrus 30 minutes before taking the lozenge or two hours afterwards.
7. Lower Back Pain
If you've been sitting hunched over your desk all afternoon, that might help explain why your lower back hurts. But repeated pain like this could actually be inflammatory. "Sacroiliac joint pain is a kind of low back pain where this particular joint has wear and tear," says Dr. Rajneesh, "as well as secondary inflammation from the wear and tear." Do some investigating to figure out what activities are making the pain worse, and then talk to your doctor about making modifications to those activities, he says.
Getting a nasty headache in the middle of the day is the worst, especially if you have a number of things you have to get done. While a mild headache every so often probably isn't anything to worry about, some are more serious, and can be worsened by inflammation. "Certain headaches like trigeminal neuralgia have an inflammatory component," says Dr. Rajneesh.
While you should definitely see a doctor for any serious head pains, it's also a good idea to add anti-inflammatory foods into your day on a regular basis. If you aren't allergic to nuts, they're a great snack or food topping. "They have antioxidants in them that help reduce inflammation and help rebuild damage," Dr. Rajneesh says.
9. Stomach Pain
"Some patients have chronic abdominal pain due to inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis," says Dr. Rajneesh. In addition to the treatment you're getting from a doctor, help your body fight inflammation by adding plenty of fresh fruits and veggies into each meal, which he says have vitamins and micronutrients that can help lower inflammation in the body overall.
Whether your pain is more of a subtle ache or it's something much harder to ignore, make sure you're seeking medical help for anything you're unsure about. A doctor will be able to help you manage the pain and guide you toward ways to manage inflammation in your body.