Sore muscles are a given while training for a road race, but be cautious about taking ibuprofen or similar drugs – they may do more harm than good.
Ibuprofen, as well as naproxen, is a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can be purchased over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in Advil and Motrin. Naproxen is the active ingredient found in Aleve. NSAIDs account for about 70 million prescriptions and 30 billion over-the-counter medications sold in the country, according to a study by the UCLA School of Medicine. The drugs inhibit enzymes produced by the body which in turn reduces inflammation and pain.
Ibuprofen and exercise don’t mix
NSAIDs can have a negative effect on the body if taken during exercise. In a 2015 study, ibuprofen did not reduce the effect of muscle damage and pain on performance.
Taking an NSAID before or during exercise can mask pain, which could lead to more severe injuries, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Another study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found runners who took any NSAIDs during exercise were more likely to become hyponatremic, a condition where the sodium levels in blood become low and results in the swelling of the body’s cells. Hyponatremia can lead to further complications, such as seizures, and death.
When is it safe to take ibuprofen?
Taking an NSAID shortly after experiencing an injury can speed up the recovery process, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine study. However, the researchers recommend a person should ask their doctor before using an NSAID to treat an injury. If it is necessary, dosages should be minimal and taken within the first week of sustaining an injury, according to the study.
While taking an NSAID outside of this window can slow down tissue repair, continued use of the drugs can be risky.
The impact of prolonged use of NSAIDs
Although ibuprofen and NSAIDs work well on pain, ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney damage can result from chronic use.
They work well for most people but continued use of NSAIDs could lead to damage to the body’s kidneys and result in other complications, according to James Coates, MD, M.B.A., clinical head of Aetna’s National Medical Excellence Program®.
“We have found out that the old saying, ‘Whatever is good for the joints is hard on the stomach,’ should be altered to, ‘Whatever is good on the joints is hard on the stomach and on the kidneys,’” Coates said.
The risk of a heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID. The risks are greater with a higher dosage.
The increased awareness about the impact of NSAIDs led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning in 2015 that the drugs can cause heart attacks or strokes. The agency also ordered prescription labels to reflect the risks associated with taking the drugs.The FDA advised patients taking NSAIDs to seek immediate medical attention if they experience chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in part of their body, or slurred speech.
Pay attention to drug interactions
Aetna offers a pharmacy safety program for members called Rx Check. The program provides checks on certain prescriptions for members and sends communication to prescribing physicians if potential issues are detected. If you’re not an Aetna member, CVS offers an online tool to check drug interactions. After listing any prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, the tool will generate a report about potential drug interactions.