eli5: Why anti-inflammatory help if inflammation is a natural process of our bodies?



Recently I’ve been prescribed anti-inflammatory for tendinopathy on my shoulder. Why is masking the pain helpful here? Shouldn’t it intentionally be there as a warning that “no you should not be moving your arm yet”? Also why inflammation is good in the first place? Does it mean more fluids with nutrients on the area for better recovery? Plz you can literally explain this like I am actually 5.

In: Biology

While inflammation can be helpful in recovery, it’s only marginally so. Your body still does a pretty good job at recovering without inflammation, so taking anti-inflammatories mitigates the pain with only a minor impact on recovery.

Well, you said it right – inflammation brings more blood and therefore nutrients to the area. It also brings the immune cells to deal with the infection and to start the repair of the damaged tissue. But the problem is that inflammation needs to be regulated. If inflammation lasts for too long, it can actually damage the tissue instead of repairing it. In a healthy person this doesn’t happen, since the body has it’s own means of regulating inflammation but if these regulatory processes fail for some reason, there can be a problem. And that’s where we need to come in with anti-inflammatory drugs. And, yes, pain is a good thing in the way that it tells you not to move with the injured limb but when you already know not to do that, excesive pain is unnecesary.

This is a very brief explanation and it’s by no means perfectly acurate – immunology is a very complicated topic.

Inflammation and pain are useful when you don’t have someone who is medically trained, like when we lived in huts and had no accumulated knowledge. You can certainly not take the medication and simply suffer, but that’s going to be an unpleasant time for you. Anti-inflammatories, used at your doctor’s/nurse’s direction, will reduce that unpleasantness. If you are worried that you won’t know when you’ve fully healed, that is a discussion you can have with your doctor/nurse; they’ll have information about how long these injuries usually take to heal and therefore when you can either come back for an additional check-up or resume normal use of the arm.