What did we do before Motrin and Tylenol? Quite arguably we just sucked it up and hobbled. But just because anti-inflammatories help to get us through the aches and pains of every day, that doesn't mean we should take them every day. Over-the-counter NSAIDs are really designed for short-term use. But many runners who hit the pavement hard, even when we aren’t feeling like it, pop a Motrin here and there and don’t give much thought to about whether it is good for us or not.
Anti-inflammatories are a classified group of medicines that were designed to reduce inflammation in the body and to relieve pain and stiffness. NSAIDs are those anti-inflammatories that are available over-the-counter. Some of the most popular ones being ibuprofen (Motrin Advil), aspirin, and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
NSAIDs work by targeting and stopping the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that are responsible for producing pain sensation in the body. They also work to protect the lining of the stomach from damage. So although they do help to alleviate the pain of sports injuries or sore and stiffness in the muscles, they also inhibit the stomach’s natural ability to protect itself.
That is why, quite often, taking them can lead to adverse side effects of the gastrointestinal system. The larger the dosage you take; the more stomach upset you will likely experience. Also, the longer that you take them, the more long-term damage you can do to your gastrointestinal system.
In the past, it was generally thought that taking NSAIDs before, during, and after competing in an event, was helpful. But that notion could not be farther from what research shows us.
According to an examination of sports studies, NSAIDs have been linked to adverse side effects by athletes that can actually harm their ability to compete. There is evidence that taking large doses, or prolonged use of anti-inflammatories, might actually lead to a host of health conditions.
Recently a landmark study examined the effects that NSAIDs on endurance runners who took ibuprofen before an event. The study concluded that participants who took over-the-counter ibuprofen both before and during a racing event had more markers for inflammation when tested post-event than those who did not supplement with NSAIDs before they competed.
There was also evidence that the athletes who supplemented with NSAIDs before competing in the endurance race, showed signs of kidney impairment and a condition called endotoxemia. Endotoxemia is a bacteria leak in your colon that enters into the bloodstream.
Statistics indicate that nearly half of all competitive athletes supplement with NSAIDs before, and/or during, their competitions. In fact, many athletes think that NSAIDs are competitive “supplements” that can give them a competitive “edge”. The initial reason that athletes were told to take NSAIDs was that it decreased pain and inflammation during and after competing in an event. And then, over time, using them just became commonplace.
Not only has it been proven that taking NSAIDs do not reduce inflammation and might lead to kidney damage; they also have not shown to prevent soreness either during or post-race. Many athletes who experience kidney impairment can actually put them out of the race altogether since kidney dysfunction can lead to dehydration. Taking NSAIDs can also increase the risk of oxidative stress in the body when taken during exercise, which is a risk factor for long-term illness.
It isn’t just about the acute and short-term effects that have been the source of recent debate related to NSAIDs. There is also studies to show that taking them might lead to slower healing of the ligaments, muscles, bones, and tendons. That would make sense since prostaglandins, the chemicals that NSAIDs seek to inhibit, are an important factor to repair muscle, and also to produce collagen, which is a protein that muscle tissue is built from.
So, taking NSAIDs can actually lead to a slower recovery from strenuous exercise. Once more, the body’s response to exercise leads to slower muscle growth. So taking NSAIDs can actually lead to weak muscles that are far more prone to injury. And once they are injured, they have a harder time healing.
If you sustain an acute injury, then taking NSAIDs for the short-term to alleviate the pain associated will probably not do much damage. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that taking it long-term will not only cause damage to the kidneys, but also that it will lead to a host of processes that will slow healing time and make you generally weaker as an athlete.
If you want to improve soreness and recovery time, it is much better to consider taking natural pain and inflammation relievers like collagen, ginger root, and curcumin. If your injury is bad enough to cause pain, common sense would dictate that instead of trying to put a band-aid on it and suffer through, you might want to take the time to let it heal.
If you are experiencing extreme sore and stiffness, then there is a good chance you are overtraining, and you might want to take a couple of days, or even weeks, off to recoup. As hard as it is to sit on the sidelines sometimes, it is much better than being benched altogether or doing long-term damage to your body that is irreversible. For more information about how to stay healthy when hitting the trail, check out all the fantastic runner’s resource articles at World Marathons today.