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Painkillers during a race or on a regular basis: a bad idea

September 2nd, 2009

Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times has a really excellent article on the “prophylactic” use of “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen — popping them before or during a competition, or on a regular basis before workouts, in the hopes of dulling pain or preventing subsequent soreness and swelling. It’s a must-read for everyone who does this.

In a number of studies conducted both in the field and in human performance laboratories in recent years, NSAIDs did not lessen people’s perception of pain during activity or decrease muscle soreness later… Moreover, [Indiana University researcher Stuart] Warden and other researchers have found that, in laboratory experiments on animal tissues, NSAIDs actually slowed the healing of injured muscles, tendons, ligament, and bones.

I can’t count the number of athletes I know, ranging from recreational to elite, who pop ibuprofen or equivalents on a regular “just in case” basis, hoping to avoid pain and soreness down the road. I really hope they read this article, and its conclusion:

When, then, are ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers justified? “When you have inflammation and pain from an acute injury,” Warden says. “In that situation, NSAIDs are very effective.” But to take them “before every workout or match is a mistake.”

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