Anti-inflammatories slow healing and recovery

There was a time when I lived on anti-inflammatories, hoping they’d allow the swelling in the different injured parts of my body to lessen and thus allow things to slide back into place.  I’d also pop them before playing hockey hoping, again, that reduced swelling would keep my body functioning a little better.  I didn’t do this too long, mind you, especially after I once took two tablets too many ibuprofen in one go and had a stomach ache like nobody’s business.  If you are an athlete on a similar road of NSAID abuse, this article in the New York Times will give you pause:

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. “NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins,”substances that are involved in pain and also in the creation of collagen, Warden says. Collagen is the building block of most tissues. So fewer prostaglandins mean less collagen, “which inhibits the healing of tissue and bone injuries,” Warden says, including the micro-tears and other trauma to muscles and tissues that can occur after any strenuous workout or race.

The painkillers also blunt the body’s response to exercise at a deeper level. Normally, the stresses of exercise activate a particular molecular pathway that increases collagen, and leads, eventually, to creating denser bones and stronger tissues. If “you’re taking ibuprofen before every workout, you lessen this training response,” Warden says. Your bones don’t thicken and your tissues don’t strengthen as they should. They may be less able to withstand the next workout. In essence, the pills athletes take to reduce the chances that they’ll feel sore may increase the odds that they’ll wind up injured — and sore.

It’s a lose-lose situation, basically.  If you take anti-inflammatories, you decrease your body’s ability to recover from the damage you do to it and become that little bit more physically and psychologically dependent on your pills — which just makes your body even more susceptible to injuries that will get you reaching for your pills again!

If that’s not bad enough, read this:

…some of the ultramarathoners were supplying their own physiological stress, in tablet form. Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories. The ibuprofen users also showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.

It’s more like a lose-lose-lose.  Anti-inflammatories actually don’t reduce inflammation if you take them before you exercise!  They increase it!  Then you get to add some kidney damage and a little bacteria leakage into the blood at no extra charge!

So the next time you’re thinking of popping anti-inflammatories to keep yourself limber for the San Diego International Triatholon, think twice.  There’s a better way! Check out this video of an Upright Health client to see how she managed to avoid anti-inflammatories:



About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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