Is rest good for inflammation?

You know that rest is good after an injury. You also know that over-working your body can cause inflammation due to stress. Now you are wondering if rest helps or worsens inflammation.

The real answer is yes and no. There is a way we can understand how we react to rest/exercise and whether it affects our inflammation.

It is very important to note that we need a certain amount and type of exercise. The more and the harder we use our bodies, the more inflammation we get. Thus it is true for muscles, ligaments, and even joints. This means that if you had an injury in your knee, running away will not do it any good.

rest and inflammation
rest and inflammation

 Also, if you are resting for more than a couple of days, your muscles become stiffer. Stiffer muscles mean less flexible joints which can lead to inflammation at the end.

Now that we know how rest/exercise affects our body on psychological and neurological levels, let's see how it affects inflammation of the specific parts of the body.

When muscles are over-used, they get inflamed. Because of this, resting will reduce the inflammation in your muscles. The inflammatory process is important to remove waste products from your bloodstream. Rest reduces the amount of waste that is being transported by your blood to specific parts of the body. When fewer wastes are transported to an area, there is no need for the area to get inflamed.

Also, your immune system becomes more active when you rest. If you are resting, your immune system will be busy fighting infections that appear in the body due to over-used muscles (secondary infections). This effect can reduce inflammation of the tissue.

When it comes to joints and ligaments, rest can also affect inflammation. The new research shows that resting after an injury is not good for your ligaments and joints. Ligaments are structures that attach bones to each other in a joint. When you sprain your ankle, the ligaments on the side of the ankle are stretched or torn. 

This means that there is "injury" to the ligaments and these need time to heal. When you rest after the sprain, your body will stop sending blood and oxygen to the ligament (this explains why sleeping with an injured ankle is not a good idea). This means that there is no inflammatory process going on to remove damaged tissue and speed up healing of the fibers which can lead to a long-term "injury".

Joints are complicated structures. The inflammation in joints is not going to cause immediate pain. This means that if you have an injury that causes some damage, resting will let the damaged cells sit there and cause more problems such as osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis can be the result of lack of movement in joints).

Now that we know how rest affects inflammation, don't worry! Exercising properly does not cause the problems listed above. It is important to exercise after an injury, especially when it comes to muscles and ligaments. It is also very important to let your muscles relax so they can recover from over-use.

Be careful with how you use your body and don't fear exercising after an injury. Keep in mind that rest is good for inflammation when:

1) you want to let your immune system work on infections (usually secondary infections).

2) You need to transport waste products out of the blood.

What time of day is inflammation highest?

The level of inflammation in the body varies over a twenty-four-hour period.  In general, it is lowest at night and peaks in the morning after waking up.  This increase has been attributed to an increase in blood plasma content due to its release from tissue storage sites, as well as changes in immune function from the body.  

Many studies have been done on this circadian pattern in immune function, and they have shown that levels of various cytokines peak at different times throughout the day.  Interleukin-12 (IL-12) peaks around midnight while IL-1β peaks in the early morning hours, starting around 5:00 AM.  

TNF-α levels are lowest at midnight, but they rise rapidly around 8:00 AM and remain elevated until the evening.  This may be due to TNF-α's role as an antimicrobial peptide which is most effective against pathogens when tissue damage allows for uncontrolled inflammation.

As such, it is produced primarily by cells of the immune system and has a pronounced effect on bacterial growth.  The circadian pattern in cytokine release suggests that the timing of treatment should be based on these fluctuations to prevent unnecessary inflammation caused by overzealous treatment.

When should I take my anti-inflammatory medication?

It has already been established that the body's inflammatory response fluctuates over a twenty-four-hour period, so it seems prudent to consider timing your anti-inflammatory medication with this in mind.  Blood levels of both TNF-α and IL-1β are highest during the early morning hours.  

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.  If you suffer from an inflammatory condition that worsens during sleep, such as rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, therapy should be initiated before going to bed.   Aspirin and ibuprofen have been shown to reduce TNF-α levels more than placebo when taken as a single dose or as divided doses throughout the day. 

In general, taking medication shortly after waking up is the best time to take both ibuprofen and aspirin.  If you prefer nighttime dosing, however, that may also be effective as long as TNF-α levels do not become too low.