Just Say NO to Drugs - Why Pain Pills are a BAD Idea

Back pain from CrossFit

If you’ve spent any time around a CrossFit box, as either a participant or trainer, you’ve probably heard someone say, “My (pick a body part or muscle) is killing me! I need a dose of Vitamin I.” For newbies to this demanding workout, “Vitamin I” is not a real supplement. It’s a term for “Ibuprofen,” the very popular pain reliever and many hard-core CrossFitters take this over the counter (OTC) drug by the handful every day.

This is a mistake. Here’s why.

Ibuprofen is part of a class of drugs known as ‘Non-Steroidal-Anti-Inflammatory-Drugs’ (NSAID) and research has shown some serious side effects associated with regular use of these drugs. Other NSAIDs include: ibuprofen (Advil ® and Motrin ®) and naproxen (Aleve ® and Naprosyn ®). NSAIDs act in the body to block the chemical messengers involved in the inflammatory response which in turn reduces pain and swelling.

While this may seem like a panacea for pain - a quick fix that is available without a prescription - it’s not. There are several things to consider before throwing down a few of these non-prescription pain pills.

Many Professional Athletes Overuse Ibuprofen

According to the Wall Street Journal, "Ibuprofen has long been popular among athletes not merely to treat pain but to ward it off. But several studies in recent years have highlighted potential side effects including an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, kidney and gastrointestinal problems and even lower male fertility.”

Some physicians, such as Dr. Craig Lankford, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Texas Back Institute in Dallas, believe that the popularity of Ibuprofen is being driven by professional and amateur athletes who overuse it. Many of his patients are unable to function properly because of unrelenting pain caused by conditions such as arthritis and injuries.

"Even though it is readily available and, in most cases, effective, Ibuprofen comes with many medical dangers,” Dr. Lankford said. It can cause damage to the stomach in the form of bleeding or perforated ulcers. Plus, if the patient has a kidney disease, taking too much ibuprofen can cause permanent damage to this organ.

CrossFit group workout

OTC Meds Can Also Slow Healing

Writing for “CrossFit Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado, Tom Baker notes, “No pain, sweet! However, while inhibiting the inflammatory response, NSAIDs also disrupt the healing process.

Studies have shown NSAIDs to slow the rebuilding of muscle cells as well as disrupt healing of muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Another study showed a vast reduction in the bone and muscle strength after 4 and 6 weeks when animals were treated with ibuprofen.”

Thus, while NSAIDs may disrupt the pain transmission temporarily, the long - term rehabilitation of the causes for this pain is delayed and, in some cases, exacerbated. As has been noted by many medical experts, “pain is a sign that something is wrong and it is wise to heed this warning.”

Better Ways to Deal With Pain

There are other ways to deal with the pain caused by an aggressive WOD. Dr. Lankfort suggested some alternatives to “Vitamin I.”

“For more holistic treatment of pain, there are supplements that do not require a prescription,” he said. “Many of my patients have had success using the herb turmeric, which contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

“There has been some basic research on bananas, which are known to be an excellent source of potassium, and it suggests that it has anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oil is another naturally occurring substance that has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory properties for arthritic pain.”

Tom Baker has another approach. “Active recovery is my favorite way to get the soreness out, reduce swelling and recover. Mobilizing immediately after a workout is important, but even more critical is how you spend the rest of your day.

“If you are sitting at a desk, you are not producing adequate muscle contractions to push ‘pooled’ venous blood and lymphatic fluid along. By getting up every 45 min to an hour and doing a few squats, walking around the building, jumping rope or even doing a set of burpees can make a huge difference. Foam rolling is another excellent method to help improve venous/lymphatic return. A quick internet search and you can find one for under $12. Just keep the intensity low and recover actively.”

How do you deal with pain and soreness from your workouts? Let us know and we will share with our readers.

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