Most health disciplines believe the body heals itself if given the opportunity. It has the knowledge to rebuild itself. There are many simple examples in your everyday life – cuts, broken bones, etc. These injuries will heal without you having to think about the process or consciously make it happen. However, there are times when that process is unable to happen, or it does not happen properly.
In order to heal an injury, we need a few particular building blocks – blood supply to and from the area, nerve supply to and from an area, and lymphatic drainage. Basically the blood supply brings the necessary building blocks for regeneration, nerve supply provides the communication, and the lymphatic system removes the debris. Therefore in order to heal any injury, the neurovascular supply to that area needs to be functioning properly.
For example, if you are suffering from a condition like tennis elbow (known as lateral epicondylitis) we are told that there is a breakdown in the tissue on the outside of the elbow. This is usually due to excessive stress placed on the muscle causing it to break down. Typical treatment involves icing the affected area, stretching the muscles of the forearm, and strengthening the wrist extensors. Rehabilitation in this manner is typically effective but sometimes ineffective. Or possibly effective in the short term but not in the long term.
The neurovascular supply was not addressed in the typical rehabilitation. Both the nerve and blood supply to the outside of the elbow have to first pass from the neck to the arm and can become compressed in a few areas along this pathway. Compression on the neurovascular supply can adversely affect healing, causing it to progress slowly or simply not progress at all. This becomes even more important when one realizes that recent research has demonstrated that the majority of tennis elbow injuries are not due to an inflammatory response (therefore not a "tendonitis" as mentioned above) but are actually a tendinosus of one of the wrist extensor muscles. A tendinosus is the degeneration of a tendon without an inflammatory response, often due to a lack of blood supply to the area. If the traditional approach is the only manner of intervention the elbow will have difficulty healing because the rehabilitation is simply incomplete.
The body’s ability to heal itself can also be affected by inflammation (view article about the inflammatory response). While inflammation is a normal response to injury, if inflammation is chronic it will block the body’s ability to heal itself. The body cannot heal unless the inflammatory response is turned off. If you are stuck in a situation where you have an injury that will not heal it may be due a chronic inflammatory response. What you need to ask yourself is “what may be causing the inflammation?”
Sometimes the answer to that question is simple – you may have a "tennis elbow" as described above but you also work at a job that requires you to constantly use your arm and leads you to irritate the injury everyday. This can easily put you in a cycle where healing cannot occur because you continuously prolong the inflammatory response.
In other situations the potential cause of the inflammation requires more thinking and assessment of what is happening in your life. Stress can create systemic inflammation in the body and can easily depress the body’s ability to heal (view article on the effects of stress). Undiagnosed food sensitivities can also lead to inflammation in the intestines that can – if prolonged – begin to affect the whole body. Unexpressed emotions are another possibility that can lead to prolonged inflammation that suppresses healing because they activate the sympathetic nervous system.
The body is a self-healing system. Natural mechanisms are in place in every one of us to rebuild tissue after it has been hurt. Unfortunately there are times where the self-healing process is delayed, leading to chronic injuries that do not respond to conventional treatments. In that scenario all the potential blocks to the self-healing body need to be explored – neurovascular supply, potential inflammatory effects to healing, or a long-term stress that is suppressing the body. If these areas are not explored the rehabilitation will not be complete and injuries will not be able to heal completely. Rehabilitation should focus on removing any barriers to healing that may exist and allow the body to heal itself the way it knows how.