This article was inspired by an article I read in Men's Health recently about how NSAIDs (specifically ibuprofen) are not effective treatments for the stiffness and soreness associated with working out. Similarly, some people will take a dose of an NSAID prior to their regular exercise routine to prevent the worst of the soreness. This is not a good idea, and can lead to stomach irritation.
NSAIDs are a class of drugs typically used to treat pain and inflammation. They can also be used to reduce fever, and specific drugs also have additional benefits. There are prescription and over-the-counter drugs within this group. Some of the common over-the-counter NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. There are many others available with a prescription, including celecoxib, diclofenac, and indomethacin.
Although effective in treating pain and swelling, there are also a number of side effects of taking NSAIDs. The most common side effects are digestive problems: nausea, heartburn, gas, and diarrhea. More severe effects may include stomach or intestinal bleeding. Long-term use, especially at higher doses, has been conclusively linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Recent research in the Netherlands has shown that taking an NSAID (ibuprofen in the study) can lead to intestinal damage. After a heavy workout on a stationary bike, test subjects using ibuprofen showed an 84% increase in the I-FABP in their blood. I-FABB is a common indicator of intestinal damage.
Instead of taking painkillers to overcome the soreness of the previous workout, here are some other tips to help you get over that hump and back in the gym.
1) Warm up and cool down. Getting the blood pumping helps prevent soreness, as does a short cool down that prevails a shock to the system after exercise.
2) Stretch in your off days. This will prevent the damage you've done to your muscles from stiffening and increase blood flow to speed recovery.
3) Do some low-impact cardio. Hit a stationary bike or the pool to get the muscles moving without putting too much strain on sore joints.
4) Use l-glutamine. A common supplement among body builders, l-glutamine taken after a workout can help reduce the stiffness and soreness of pushing yourself.
5) Rest. If you are too sore to work out, then do not. Take another day off to let them recover. Pain in the muscles and joints are a normal part of getting in shape, but if it's so unbearable you need to take a painkiller, it's best just to let it recover before you hit the gym again.
Even though NSAIDs should not be a regular part of your workout, it does not mean they do not have their uses. After suffering an injury such as a sprain or strain, NSAIDs are very effective at managing the pain and swelling. They should be part of the regular treatment and recovery plan of the injury, though, and not a way to get back into the gym sooner than is healthy. Just because it does not hurt, does not mean the injury is fully healed. Putting too much strain on an injury too soon is likely to result in permanent injury.