Swelling – Causes and Treatment

Having just had back surgery, it made me think of what goes on inside the body that causes the swelling and most importantly how to get rid of the pain. Since I work in the hot and cold therapy product field, I knew exactly the best way to treat it. I am often asked when should you use ice or heat and how do you know if the swelling is normal or bad. If you’ve ever had an injury or a surgery, chances are you have experienced the swelling that is caused by lymphatic fluid rushing to the injury site. Lymphatic fluid is the clear fluid that accumulates inside a blister. It is used to provide nutrition to the cells of the body and to remove waste. When cells become damaged, fluid rushes to the injury site and sweeps away any bacteria that may have accumulated. It is then whisked off to the lymph nodes where it can be filtered off and excreted from the body. If only it would take the pain with it.

Swelling is a normal part of the healing process whether it is from surgery or a hard bump. The immediate swelling is typically blood that is accumulating from broken blood vessels caused by the trauma. Over time, if the injury is minor, the blood will be swept away by the lymphatic system, and the swelling will subside. It is often confusing trying to decide whether you should apply a hot compress or an ice pack or whether you should alternate the two. If you do alternate, there is always the question of how long each should be applied before switching. After my surgery, I treated it with ice to help reduce the swelling and to numb some of the pain. As time went on, I began alternating it with heat to relax the muscles that were damaged during surgery and reduce the muscle spasms. For both heat and ice you should remove the pack after about 10 to 15 minutes, and allow the skin to return to a normal temperature before icing or heating it again. Any longer and you can cause skin burns and nerve damage.

Swelling can also sometimes signify infection or the presence of an irritating substance beneath the skin. This type of swelling is caused by a concentration of lymphatic fluid at the infection site. A fever along with pus and redness around the injured area with this type of swelling is a good indication you have an infection and should contact your doctor. Applying heat to the infected area can help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling. Just as the cold of ice causes blood vessels to constrict and reduce blood flow, heat causes them to expand, so that more blood cells can pass through and speed the healing.

Another great thing about ice and heat therapy is that it has helped me reduce the amount of pain meds my doctor prescribed, therefore reducing the chances of me becoming addicted to them. Just another great benefit of hot and cold therapy.