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Exercise Pain Management

Is It Safe to Take Ibuprofen for the Aches and Pains of Exercise?

1 year, 3 months ago

7561  1
Posted on Aug 21, 2017, 8 a.m.

New study explores the safety of NSAID use during and after physical activity.

Some people take ibuprofen following exercise, surgical procedures and other activities that involve pain. In most instances, ibuprofen works quite well as a pain reliever. The question is whether taking an ibuprofen following exercise or during is safe.

Ibuprofen Has Its Risks

Ibuprofen is generally safe. It is available over the counter in the United States and several other countries. However, some people do not take ibuprofen in small doses or at a low frequency. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs have the potential to cause trouble just like any other drug. Side effects of ibuprofen include stomach aches, cardiovascular issues, and even intestinal bleeding. Additional side effects are possible but fairly unlikely. These include a heightened risk for heart attack. The risk of a heart attack following the consumption of ibuprofen is especially high for those who have endured a prior heart attack.

It is also possible for ibuprofen consumption to result in kidney injuries. Kidney issues connected to ibuprofen typically occur in those who have kidney disease and those who take medications that alter the function of kidneys. The bottom line is ibuprofen is safe yet when it is taken at especially high doses or for an extended period of time, it becomes somewhat risky. 

A Look at a Recent Study of Ibuprofen Use During Physical Activity

The use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs is quite common for those who are attempting to alleviate aches and pains experienced during and after workouts. Some marathon runners and other endurance athletes down ibuprofen in a preventive manner. Their aim is to decrease pain and maybe even boost performance with the help of the NSAID. This is a mistake. Such athletes face an especially high risk for kidney injury.

Endurance athletes have a disproportionately high occurrence of muscle damage and dehydration. Such damage and dehydration are two key contributing factors for kidney injuries. Once ibuprofen is added to this volatile situation, the athletes are that much more likely to endure a kidney injury. The question begs: should endurance athletes and others who exercise avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs?

The answer to this question is detailed in the July '17 edition of Emergency Medicine Journal. Researchers studied 89 “ultra-marathoners” across a week-long 155-mile race. The runners were divided into two groups. The first group consumed 400 mg of ibuprofen. This equates to two Advil. The 400 mg of ibuprofen was taken every four hours for four doses toward the race finale. The second group took a placebo.

The Findings

The findings of the study were concerning. Kidney injury was surprisingly common. About 44 percent of the participants endured considerably reduced kidney function by the race's end. Kidney damage was especially common among the runners in the group that took ibuprofen. Over half of those who took ibuprofen endured diminished kidney function. About 33 percent of the runners in the placebo group also experienced reduced kidney function.

It is interesting to note the differences in the rates of damage to the kidneys were not statistically meaningful. However, the severity of the injured kidneys was higher in the group of runners that consumed ibuprofen. Those who finished faster and lost more weight than other participants during the race (probably due to increased dehydration) were more inclined to suffer a kidney injury.

What the Results Mean

Though the average person will not attempt to run 155 miles in a single week, this study is still important. It sets the stage for additional, larger studies, that might find similar differences in the rate of kidney disease. Such results could prove to be statistically significant. It is also possible that lower or higher doses of ibuprofen might generate different outcomes. There is still a question as to what sort of long-term effects ibuprofen has on kidney function.

Though the study certainly has its shortcomings, it raises some legitimate concerns for those who rely on ibuprofen to relieve the aches and pains of exercise. The authors of the study believe Tylenol might prove to be a safer alternative. Additional research is necessary to determine if this position is meritorious.

Those who take ibuprofen on a regular basis should have their blood monitored on a regular basis. This testing should include a measure of kidney function. Those who have kidney disease should not use non-aspirin NSAIDs. It is prudent to consult with a doctor before using ibuprofen or other NSAIDs.

The bottom line is ibuprofen helps plenty of people yet its possible side effects pose serious threats. Those who take the proper precautions will reduce the likelihood of such side effects.

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