Every day, people across the country take ibuprofen to help ease the aches and pains of daily life. Many athletes, typically those in long high-endurance events, take ibuprofen several times during the course of a race or long training session. But does frequent use of ibuprofen pose a health risk?
Ibuprofen, most commonly known as Advil or Motrin, is an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs are typically used to manage mild to moderate pain, fever and inflammation, which are caused by the release of chemicals called prostaglandins. Ibuprofen reduces these symptoms by blocking the enzyme that makes prostaglandins.
For those taking NSAIDs for occasional aches and pains, the health risks are minimal. But, Jesus Guillermo Rodriquez, MD, a pain medicine physician at the Round Rock 425 University Blvd. Clinic, warns athletes that taking these medications routinely can be associated with some higher risks. Inflammation caused by athletic injuries, like tendonitis, bursitis and overuse, often requires taking a higher dosage for effectiveness.
Long-term use of these high doses can reduce the blood’s ability to clot and, therefore, increase bleeding after an injury. NSAIDs can also reduce blood flow to the kidneys and impair kidney function. Those who already have impaired kidney function or congestive heart failure have a higher risk for these side effects and should take precaution when using NSAIDs. Fluid retention, blood clots, heart attacks, hypertension, heart failure and stomach or intestinal ulceration have also been associated with the use of NSAIDs.
To reduce these risks, physicians recommend only using high doses for a limited amount of time and decreasing dosage to “as needed” as soon as possible. For example, someone with ankle tendonitis might take four Advil three times a day (always with food) for 10 days and then scale down to two a day if still needed.
To further reduce risk, Dr. Rodriguez urges athletes NOT to use NSAIDs:
- Prior to exercise – Your body uses pain as a way to communicate when something is not right. You do not want to mask how your body feels and overlook a problem. Additionally, there is a risk of kidney damage if you take them and get dehydrated.
- During exercise – Instead, take Tylenol if you need something for pain management, especially during long distance events where potential dehydration is an issue.
- Immediately following an endurance event – Wait until after you have urinated to prevent possible kidney damage related to dehydration.
Dr. Rodriguez also offered athletes some alternative ways of coping with injuries:
- See a doctor to treat the underlying injury rather than running through pain.
- Ice the painful area for 10-15 minutes before and after running.
- Talk to your doctor about using a topical pain reliever that will not impact the stomach or kidneys.
Coping with injuries is tough, both mentally and physically, so it is critical to make sure your long-term health and longevity goals are always ahead of your short-term goals. Taking time off to rehabilitate an injury may seem hard at the time, but it could be the difference in avoiding permanent damage that could stop you from running or exercising altogether.