There’s a good chance you’ve probably sprained an ankle in the past at some point. You might have been running and didn’t see the stone, although it felt more like a boulder under your foot, up ahead.
It may have been from that game of squash where you kind of knew you wouldn’t be able to make the return but you went for it anyway and the next thing you know you’re on that cold, hard court after falling sideways. Or it may have even occurred on that birthday night out. I don’t think we have to go into too much detail for that one.
If you’ve sprained any ligament, not just an ankle, you may be aware of something that’s called the “inflammatory response”.
This sequence of events is a perfectly natural response to injury from the body. It’s the body’s way of getting the injured structure cleared of any damaged tissue in and around the area. In a perfect world, this response would take roughly 12 to 24 hours, and most importantly, we as people wouldn’t meddle in it.
Because that’s what we do: we meddle. We’ve all done it so don’t deny it. We knew we had work the next day so “soldiered on”, thought we could “run/work through it”, act like we aren’t injured… the list goes on.
Ideally, in that first 12 to 24 hours we, as injured people, should rest, ice, compress, and optimally load (use your injured part pain-free) the area of injury (obviously this is easier said than done with certain body parts, but that’s for another day).
This small window provides the body the opportunity to do its thing – heal! When we don’t afford ourselves this window it can lead to ligaments not healing correctly. This is due the collagen fibres (think of this as the new tarmac being laid on old, pot-hole filled road) not being exposed to the mechanical stresses experienced of the affected joint, and incurs a high likelihood of re-injury.
Continuing with the above analogy of road repair, if you were to just dollop a load of fresh tarmac on the ground and continue to traffic to drive over it, it wouldn’t really provide much structural relief. Additionally, if you were to dollop said tarmac down and didn’t smooth it out, you’d be left with an impromptu speed bump.
Functionality is key!
Inversely though, our friend the inflammatory response also occurs whenever we engage in exercise: whether it’s the soreness in our arms after doing some rowing, or the obvious example of when you’ve returned to the gym after having the entire month of December off and you can’t use the stairs the next day.
That’s the inflammatory response doing its thing. The only difference we have between these occurrences is that the former is an event we don’t want to be experiencing. Injury is due to our bodies not being able to deal with the loads and/or forces placed on it.
The latter however is us trying to improve our body’s ability to cope with loads and/or forces. This second occurrence is us actively trying to avoid injury by becoming stronger. And it’s this occurrence of inflammation that’s the beginning of the process.
So, there you have it: inflammation… definitely a friend. But like all good friends, it will be there for you through thick and thin.