When you pop an NSAID like Advil/Ibuprofen, the purpose is usually to decrease pain, soreness, and inflammation. In order to do this, the action of the drug is to stop production of prostaglandins. Normally prostaglandins are released in the body to help when there's injury in order to make the blood clot to keep you from bleeding too much. That's a good thing. However, when the body is damaged, and prostaglandins are released, it causes pain. Pain is there to let you know there's damage so you stop doing what you did to cause the damage.
So when you take an NSAID to stop prostaglandin production, yes, you can diminish pain. But you are also stopping the body from being able to heal as efficiently from the inflammation due to injury. Here's why.
"After an injury, the immune system rallies to prevent infection. As part of the body’s inflammatory response, damaged cells begin releasing arachidonic acid, a natural chemical that latches onto cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that helps create compounds necessary for blood flow. Together, they produce what’s called prostaglandin H2 — ibuprofen’s primary target." (from "How Does Ibuprofen Actually Work?")
Ibuprofen isn't selective about where it blocks the production of prostaglandin. The action of blocking prostaglandin production in the body also hinders digestion and other functions...like blood flow. And it's not that it just hinders digestion a little, but since prostaglandins (which it stopped production of) help maintain the constant repair of your stomach lining, taking an NSAID can actually cause bleeding, ulcers, and leaky gut - where gut sludge (aka poop) can leak out of the intestines. Which, by the way, is the perfect way to cause infection and whole body inflammation.
That's exactly what happened in this study:
Ibuprofen use has actually been shown to not only NOT help with things like muscle soreness and damage (in ultramarathoners in this case), but it actually ELEVATED endotoxemia (fancy word for bacterial toxins in the blood) and inflammation.
Ummm. So why is it called an anti-inflammatory if it causes inflammation?
But wait. There's more! (*said in my best infomercial voice)
Prostaglandins (what Ibuprofen blocks) regulate overall blood pressure, including regulating proper pressure in the kidneys so they can filter fluids. The change in body fluid pressure (without prostaglandins) decreases kidney function. Cause now their pressure is off. Decreased kidney function leads to increased blood pressure, fluid buildup, dehydration, dizziness, and toxin buildup (because decreased urination).
Okay, so let's sum up. NSAIDs not only don't reduce inflammation, but they can cause blood pressure, gut, and kidney issues. Plus toxic blood and infection.
Just kidding. No way can you stop there without giving some sort of alternative to using NSAIDs. So here are my suggestions.
First, check the intensity of exercise and only do what you can without needing to take something to take the edge off. For that matter, don't do things AT ALL that damage your body to that point. Let's work the preventative angle first and foremost.
But if something happens like you step in a hole and roll your ankle, jam a finger, bounce off a doorway while trying to keep your crawling baby from getting to the stairs (don't ask), or you get in a car accident, then obviously you can't help it.
This could also apply to chronic pain and inflammation that you can't seem to break free from.
So first things first, you need to help the body do what it is trying to do to patch up the damage. Instead of blocking the guys with the bandages (prostaglandins), help them out by putting pressure on the wound - cause that helps stop too much bleeding too.
Another cool thing the body does is it increases blood flow to the damaged area which brings in healing blood cells to repair the area and removes the damaged cells/tissues. It's like a little train system delivering good stuff and hauling out the bad stuff. Because of the extra blood flow to the area, it also causes swelling - which just means the tissues are puffy because of the extra fluids present. Swelling is good because it creates an internal splint - so you don't start using said damaged area while it's still trying to heal.
Now, of course swelling can be pretty painful as well. But remember, it's not the swelling that's the bad guy, it's the damage inside the body. So getting rid of (normal) swelling isn't going to help the body heal faster...it will just slow it down.
One of my very favorite ways to take the edge off of pain/swelling and help the body heal is by using ice massage. Now, ice by itself - like putting an icepack on for 15+ minutes, will actually slow the healing process, so that's not my first choice most of the time. Rather, if you use an ice cube and rub it straight on the skin (this is for a muscle strain, sprain, tendinitis-type injury, nerve pain, etc) in little circles for about 5 minutes (you'll feel cold, burning, aching, then numb. When it's numb, it's done). It first constricts the blood flow to the area. Then briskly rub the area (like with a dry washcloth) to help bring the blood back in and as the tissue warms, the blood quickly rushes in and flushes out the toxins/damaged tissues. Not only does this speed the healing process but it greatly reduces the pain you are feeling as well.
Swelling generally resolves well once the initial damage has been repaired and you simple start moving (gently) again. Gentle exercise creates a muscle-pump action that helps to resolve the excess fluid in the swollen area.
If you have something like a cut, cayenne pepper has fabulous blood clotting action to help stop excess bleeding. It's also anti-bacterial so can help to prevent infection. The odd thing is, even though it's HOT to your taste buds, it doesn't burn when put on a cut. We use it often. (it's also great for headaches when taken internally by the way)
If you want to help your body with inflammation by taking something internally - maybe you just really like taking pills (wink), turmeric or curcumin is brilliant as an anti-inflammatory without the side effects (unless you take too much and get a stomachache. Go easy on it). Also, Omega-3's are fabulous to help cool the inflammation by promoting (not hindering) healing. (My very favorite Omegas are these plant-based ones from Juice Plus+. And my kids love these chewable Omegas from Mary Ruth Organics).
Of course, depending on what the cause of the pain/damage is will change how you treat it, but these are some great go-to's that we keep in our natural "First Aid Kit."
In summary, think twice before you reach for an NSAID because it may take your body longer to recover from it than the actual thing you were taking it for in the first place. Prepare ahead of time to take a more body-supportive approach to help healing when pain/injury arises by keeping ice, cayenne, turmeric, and Omega-3's on hand. And take care of your body preventatively so it will be more able to ward off illness and more quickly recover from injury if/when it occurs.
Here's To Your Health!
Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do for pain/injury. Please contact me if you'd like to learn more.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. This is not medical advice. If you would like medical advice, please see your medical provider.
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How Does Ibuprofen Actually Work?
Ibuprofen use, endotoxemia, inflammation, and plasma cytokines during ultramarathon competition