Healing Process Definition

The processes and mechanisms by which the body repairs itself. Healing represents complex and cascading interactions among various of the body’s systems and mechanisms. Among the first to respond are the coagulation cascade, to stop bleeding, and the immune response, which mobilizes T-cell lymphocytes, macrophages, antibodies, the complement cascade, and the release of cytokines and prostaglandins.

Fibroblasts (cells that build collagen) converge at the site about 48 hours after the injury occurs to begin construction of SCAR tissue. After about six weeks the healing process turns its focus to remodeling the collagen tissue, restoring the tissues at the site of the injury to relatively normal structure and appearance. This final phase of healing lasts six months to two years, depending on the extent of the injury.

Disease processes influence healing as well. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and peripheral vascular disease (pvd), themselves likely the result of inflammatory dysfunction of some sort, damage the fine networks of nerves and blood vessels that intertwine through the tissues, limiting the ability of these structures to carry signals (nerves) and transport molecules and cells vital to immune function (blood vessels).

Serious injury-whether from disease process, trauma, or major surgery-affects endocrine and hormonal activity throughout the body, which influence the rate and processes of healing. Serious injury temporarily stuns the thyroid gland, for example, resulting in reduced production of thyroid hormones and consequential slowing of metabolism (euthyroid sick syndrome).

Although researchers can map the physiologic steps of healing, much of healing remains a mystery. Researchers do not fully understand what starts, regulates, and ends the healing process. Many integrations across neurologic, endocrine, and immune functions are factors in healing. Some researchers are exploring connections between emotions and the numerous biochemical substances that are key to the healing process.

Researchers know, for example, that emotional stress influences the release of numerous hormones in the body and the release of these hormones-such as the hormone cortisol, a powerful immunosuppressant-directly affects the functions of the immune system. Research has shown that pain is a stressor and affects the rate of healing. Studies continue to explore the relationship between the mind and healing.

See also AYURVEDA; HORMONE; INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE; MIND-BODY INTERACTIONS; PATHOGEN; REIKI; STRESS RESPONSE HORMONAL CASCADE; TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM); WOUND CARE.

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