You’ve pushed your muscles to the limit after an intense workout, so you pop a couple of ibuprofen and wait for the aches to subside. Though research shows that ibuprofen is effective at relieving pain and inflammation, it can also affect your skeletal muscle and gastrointestinal tract tissue. So does ibuprofen, or ‘Vitamin I’ as it’s commonly called among athletes, actually help or do more harm?
How ibuprofen works
Ibuprofen blocks the production of prostaglandins (COX enzymes that are released when we experience illness or injury) and helps ease the symptoms of pain or inflammation. However, since ibuprofen is a non-selective COX inhibitor, it doesn’t differentiate between blocking one COX enzyme over another. Your muscle pain may go away, but ibuprofen can then go on to have a negative impact on other parts of the body.
Ibuprofen as a preventative
You may have heard about taking ibuprofen before a workout to avoid the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that usually sets in 24 to 72 hours after muscles are challenged in a new way. While you might think it’s a good plan to outsmart pain and stiffness, taking ibuprofen pre-workout can actually affect the body’s natural healing process. If you already have a minor injury and take ibuprofen before you exercise, you risk damaging tissue even further by reducing pain and inflammation.
Ibuprofen and your gut
Up to 80 per cent of endurance athletes exhibit upper and lower gastrointestinal side effects like heartburn and diarrhea, but why? When you exercise, more blood is dispatched to your muscles and less is sent to areas that aren’t asking for it, like gastrointestinal tissue. If this happens over frequent and prolonged periods of time, it can become damaged. Research shows that ibuprofen worsens exercise induced intestinal injury significantly. It exaggerates the effect of exercise by essentially suffocating the gut tissue during and after intense workouts.
Research shows that while non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are very good at their job as pain-relievers and anti-inflammatories, they can have detrimental effects on skeletal muscle tissue and the gastrointestinal tract.
Addressing pain in other ways
Now that we know some of the possible effects ibuprofen can have on our bodies, what are some alternatives?
- Determine the cause. Bad running habits, ill-fitting shoes and lack of stretching can all cause pain and inflammation. Consult a coach or sports therapist to assess your techniques.
- Support the inflammatory process. There are times when inflammation actually contributes to healing and shouldn’t be suppressed. Always work with a doctor or physiotherapist to find the right treatments for you.
- Don’t skip the cool-down. Leaving the gym before you’ve taken the time to wind down can compromise needed blood flow to active tissues and prevent clearing of leftover toxins.
- Stretch. Stretching the major muscles post-workout helps to realign muscle fibres and maintain long-term elasticity in muscle tissue, which means less pain, less delayed onset muscle soreness – and less reason to take ibuprofen.
- Try natural anti-inflammatories. If you do need to take something, try natural anti-inflammatories that have a much lower side effect profile. Curcumin, bromelain and
boswellia are great places to start.
Pain and swelling don’t have to happen every time you exercise. Learning some alternative methods of relief instead of relying on ibuprofen might bring you surprising, yet equally effective results.
Disclaimer: This article is for the purpose of providing information only. It is not intended as the practice of medicine or the provision of medical services. This site does not provide medical advice; the content provided is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your provider or other healthcare professional with any question regarding any medical or mental health condition.
What are some of your go-tos for treating pain? How do you manage pain naturally? Tell us! Leave your comments below.