Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin may seem a great way to alleviate soreness and pain after a particularly vigorous run or strength training session. These nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, suppress inflammation, but recent studies published in the Emergency Medical Journal and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences have found this may not be without consequence. When combined with exercise, they may overwork the kidneys and impede the muscles’ recovery.
Unfortunately, ibuprofen and similar drugs have a long relationship with athletes, especially those engaging in more strenuous activities like marathon running. Some studies have found that more than 75% of long-distance runners rely on NSAIDS to blunt the strain of training and competitions.
A team from Stanford University began investigating the true impact of NSAIDS after it was found that those that take them may still experience muscle soreness.
Essentially, NSAIDS block the production of prostaglandins, a biochemical that heads to the site of an injury and begins the process that creates pain and inflammation. To increase blood flow to the area, prostaglandins also stimulate blood vessels to dilate. NSAIDS limits the amount of prostaglandins, lessening inflammation.
The Stanford researchers studied 89 participants in multiday marathons around the globe, having them swallow either an ibuprofen pill or placebo pill every four hours during a 50-mile leg. They then studied the amount of creatinine in the racers’ blood. Creatinine, a byproduct of the kidneys filtering the blood, can help show kidney injury — the higher the levels of creatinine in an otherwise healthy person, the more likely a person is to have an injury.
Runners who took ibuprofen were 18% more likely than their counterparts to have developed an acute kidney injury. Though 44% of all runners had high levels of creatinine, those who ingested ibuprofen had more severe injury.
The Stanford team followed this with a study looking at how NSAIDS impact a body’s response to exertion within the muscles. They found that, in mice, NSAIDS block muscles’ ability to rebuild after strenuous exercise, and the healed muscle tissue isn’t as strong as that which hasn’t been exposed to a painkiller.
It’s important to remember that inflammation, while uncomfortable, is part of the body’s natural healing process and an essential component to regeneration and regrowth. If pain is an issue, ice baths can be an effective, safe remedy to sore muscles, keeping your body strong, healthy, and primed for competition.
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