Inflammation – Friend or Foe?

Inflammation: A localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.

The word inflammation often provokes images and sensations of pain, redness and being forced into a level of sloth-like living. This negative perception is not entirely accurate as inflammation is an essential part of the rebuilding, growth and healing process.

The swelling and pain that may come from training is only temporary and at the end of the tunnel there is a positive outcome. A little inflammatory response from training may be a sign that you pushed just hard enough to help facilitate the necessary micro-trauma for your muscle cells to eventual grow.

So, what exactly happens to cause this sometimes painful state? Is it something that we should try to avoid or should be embrace it? (within reason of course).

There are some phases tissue goes through that are necessary for healing that comes with any type of injury, including the normal processes that occur from training. The inflammation phase is really the first phase. After tissue is damaged, there are chemicals released in the body in reaction to this that can cause some edema that temporarily cause sensitive nerve endings and thus pain. This phase is necessary as it helps to prepare your tissue for the next phases where new tissue formation and regeneration occurs. The inflammation period is necessary, but if it goes on too long it has major negative and opposite effects of what you are really looking for from training – health and vitality.

During training, we are not actually building anything, we are actually creating a series of microscopic tears in our cells. Our muscles contain cells called satellite cells that have important regulatory functions for cellular growth, maintenance and repair. These cells sort of stay dormant until we exercise. The greater the intensity, the greater the stimuli and with proper rest and recovery protocols like taking a few days to rest the muscle group, supplementing with fish oils, refueling post exercise with a fast absorbing amino sources, the better your results.

If you want to be lean and strong you must not only awaken these dormant cells that multiply and help with repair and growth of muscle fibers, you must create a sufficient level of trauma. This all sets up your body for the dreaded yet necessary state of inflammation that many avoid by not pushing hard enough or at all.

Does training have to hurt and leave you immobile?

No way! It really shouldn’t be that traumatic and to that extent…ever!

When you begin training or start a new program, you may experience some stiffness and swelling and pain, but it should never be debilitating. Supplementing with anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients like those found in my article Anti-Inflammatory Foods Lead to Longevity and those mentioned above, along with a sensible and progressive training program are a great way to get the benefits of training while minimizing your down time and inflammatory response.


Kravitz, Len. (2004). Structure and function of the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. In RW Earle & TR Baechle (Eds.), NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training (pp. 4-5). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Potach, David H. (2004). Clients with orthopedic, injury, and rehabilitation concerns. In RW Earle & TR Baechle (Eds.), NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training (pp. 534-535). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


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