We’re all pill poppers at one point or another … an ache here, a pain there … easily fixed with aspirin or ibuprofen. But if you’re a runner, you need to think twice and hold yourself to a different standard.
While I’m not directly referring to the type of pill/drug abuse that resulted in the deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, River Phoenix, Anna Nicole Smith, Michael Jackson, and quite possibly Whitney Houston, the media surrounding the most recent deaths got me thinking about what painkillers have to do on a more localized scale – the running world.
I cringe every time I hear a runner complaining of knee or other pains followed by “if I take an aspirin I can run on it.”
To begin, if you’re in enough pain that you have to take any type of suppressant before running, you shouldn’t be running on it! You also need to be aware of the intensity and exact location of your pain; if you’re masking a specific pain, you may block messages from your body that you need to stop.
Taking a pain reliever does not fix the problem, it temporarily covers it up.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard:
“Listen to your body when it whispers and you won’t have to let it scream.”
Most of us have heard those whispers; if we take heed then hopefully we won’t have to hear it scream.
As far as pain relief after a run, if you’re kicking up your training then you’re probably going to experience discomfort and swelling in your knees. You need to differentiate between normal soreness and pain from injury. As your body adapts to the training and higher mileage, your musculoskeletal system will get stronger and you will experience less soreness and swelling (I’ll cover why you get inflammation in the knees in a bit). Taking pain relievers should not be part of your recovery regimen (ice bath, stretching, chocolate milk, foam roller).
Running should not be painful – if you’re injured, get off your feet and go see a doctor.
You don’t have to take my word for it (though you should, ha). Recent research suggests that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs) sometimes do the opposite of what is intended and can even cause harm.
The NY Times featured a great article on the study of ultra-runners competing in a 100-mile race in California. The results are pretty stunning, demonstrating that runners who took ibuprofen leading up to and on race day showed signs of kidney impairment. Additionally, the ibuprofen did nothing to help performance or recovery. In fact, runners who loaded up before and during the race had 50% more inflammation in their bodies after the race than those who didn’t. This article is a definite must read.
That last statistic is the most catching. Why would they have MORE inflammation? Easy answer here.
Inflammation is actually the body’s first sign of healing – squash that and you’re delaying the healing process. Taking pain relievers during physical activity also inhibits the body’s creation of collagen, which is the building block of tissue, thereby hindering the repair of muscles, tendons, ligament, and bones.
This should definitely hit home – research in the article charges that taking pain relievers can affect your fitness level:
“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.”
A lot of inflammation, such as tendinitis (commonly in hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, heel), is due to overuse. Again, listen to your body.
Inflammation is normally characterized by five distinct signs, each of which stems from a physiological response to injury:
- Swelling or Edema
- Loss of function
Your body is designed to utilize what you put into it for the betterment of its performance. Nature offers plenty of inflammatory aids found in food:
- Fats and oils – Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, flax seeds, olive oil, avocado, nuts and oils such as rice bran oil, grape seed oil, and walnut oil.
- Fruits and vegetables – Whole fruits, berries and vegetables – the brighter the better! Try blueberries, coconut, shiitake mushrooms, kelp, papaya, broccoli, sweet potatoes.
- Protein sources – lean poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Beverages – water and green tea
Photo source: http://neuroethicscanada.wordpress.com/author/peterreiner/
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.