Pain Medication And Running
How many times have you heard phrases such as ‘feel the burn’ ‘push through the pain’ or ‘if it ain’t hurting, it ain’t working’? Anyone undertaking a serious workout regime could be forgiven for thinking that pain is part of the getting fit deal. It’s so easy to reach for painkillers either to dodge the bullet by taking it before exercise or to handle pain afterward. But if you are on the road to becoming healthy and fit, is popping a pill as a quick fix the sensible way to go?
Taking a painkiller when you’re not feeling well is common practice, and the same is true for athletes. Runners in particular because the body goes through extremes of stress when they engage in strenuous running workouts. Many athletes take painkillers to ward off exercise pain, while others medicate in anticipation of pain. There are also some advanced runners who are under the impression that painkillers can help improve performance by increasing pain threshold. The question is, ‘Should you really be ‘hiding’ your pain with pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)?’ It may be hard to give a definitive answer because there are many variables. Not all types of pain are the same.
When To Take Painkillers
Sometimes pain is just the result of something easily rectified, not wearing the right pair of running shoes for example. The wrong pair can affect stability and cause serious problems with joints. In other cases though, it could be a degenerative joint problem such as arthritis, which requires a different treatment approach rather than relying on painkillers alone.
What this implies is that taking a painkiller or not needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It is important to consider the benefits as well as the risks of taking painkillers regularly before deciding anything. For instance, for a healthy older man suffering from mild knee osteoarthritis, it may be okay to take ibuprofen before golfing or walking to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of performing a physical activity. However, a young runner who is taking pain medication to push through the pain caused by severe Achilles tendinitis, better idea would be to stick to a stretching and strengthening regimen to treat and strengthen the tendon to avoid further harm.
In other words, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and you should do something to correct the issue instead of simply masking the warning pain with medication. Before taking common painkillers, it is important to consider their pros and cons.
Many runners and athletes rely on ibuprofen to deal with soreness and aches. After all, inflammation is painful. However, inflammation is a natural response to injury. It is the body’s way of increasing blood supply to an area so that natural healing can begin. Ibuprofen being an effective anti inflammatory, works to depress the production of prostaglandins, the group of lipid compounds that are released in response to cellular distress to create localized inflammation as part of the healing process.
The production of prostaglandins relies on two types of COX enzymes that are blocked by taking ibuprofen. By taking ibuprofen, prostaglandin production is interrupted which in turn reduces the inflammation and its associated soreness and aches. The problem is this leaves the injury site without the mechanism and chemicals needed for self healing and therefore more vulnerable to long term damage.
Ibuprofen also has side effects with long term use negatively affecting the digestive system since COX enzymes are important for protecting your intestinal and stomach lining. Moreover, many studies have found that taking ibuprofen before exercise is not going to improve performance. It is impossible. Prostaglandins have not been triggered for release because there has been no distress or injury. This means taking the pill after a workout to reduce soreness may help but it is impossible to benefit in any way from taking one before exercise.
Taking acetaminophen or Tylenol is not a great idea, especially before running or any other physical exercise because it directly affects the way your body regulates temperature. While running, your body burns energy that has raised body temperature as a byproduct. Tylenol induces the cooling process which is why it used on fevers but prolonged or heavy doses can lead to thyroid issues. Moreover, Tylenol does nothing to block COZ enzymes like Ibuprofen does, which means it will not reduce inflammation-induced muscle soreness either.
Also called Aleve, it is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that helps control aches like ibuprofen but its effects are more long-lasting. A 220mg dose provides about 8-12 hours relief. A higher dose also helps reduce inflammation, but runners should avoid taking it regularly because chronic use causes heart, renal and gastrointestinal issues. The negative effects are likely to become aggravated during and after a hard running session because that’s exactly the time when your blood flow is maximized and you’re likely to be slightly dehydrated.
Whether you want to take a painkiller or already take one, be sure to keep the following guidelines in mind.
- Never rely heavily on pain killers and understand that pain medication should be a small part of a larger treatment plan, especially when you’re dealing with sports injuries.
- Avoid taking NSAIDs to deal with acute injuries because these drugs may help a little with chronic conditions but actually delay healing when you’re dealing with acute injuries.
- Don’t take a combination of NSAIDs at the same time or else you may have to deal with serious side effects.
- Understand that pain medicines are only going to help you push through the pain for a short while, and taking them for long periods will have a negative effect on training and sports performance.
- Whenever taking a pain medicine, be sure to follow the instructions you find on the package. Exceeding the dosage can also hurt you in a bad way.
- Get in touch with your physician when you’re not sure of why you’re experiencing pain. A combination of diet and exercise will go a long way in keeping you healthy, but sometimes you need to take medicines that only a doctor can prescribe. If your pain is due to biomechanical factors such as underlying tightness, poor form, etc., you don’t need to take any painkillers to deal effectively with such issues.
No one in their right mind likes dealing with pain but experiencing pain is the body’s early warning that something is wrong. Masking pain with chemical blockers does not mean it has gone away and therefore there is no longer a problem. In fact, it’s the opposite. The pain is still there and so is the problem causing it. By taking anything that reduces inflammation or blocks pain receptors, such as ibuprofen or Tylenol, you remove the body’s own capacity to heal itself and misuse creates its own problems. That said, there’s only so much self healing the body can do before systems and mechanisms are overwhelmed and medical intervention is required. It’s about knowing your body and where the fine line is between allowing your body to mend itself and seeking help. As a general rule, if you are having to take a painkiller more often than not through the course of a week there is likely to be a deeper underlying issue. With a healthy body and a good routine, you should not need to rely on self medicating to get you through your run or workout.