Running and Medication – Should Runners Take OTC Painkillers During Training?

Top view of sporty young fit woman running on urban asphalt. Female athlete training outside in summer.

Logging serious miles every week hurts.

Even if you’re following a perfect running routine and are taking good care of your body, you’ll still experience muscle aches and pain every now and then.

That’s why after a hard session—that sort that leaves many in pain for days—many runners reach for OTC painkillers to soothe what’s ailing them

In fact, surveys have reported that up to 60 percent of runner pop in non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in the months leading up to a race with roughly half of them taking them right before the big day.

But, like all drugs, these meds have side effects, and some of these can be serious even leads to addiction.

In today’s article, I’ll break down the pros and cons of using OTC painkillers during training, so you can stay in shape and addiction-free.

Let’s get started.

The Impact of Drugs

First things first, all forms of medication have side or adverse effects, even the non-steroid anti-inflammation variety.

So what are NSAIDS?

Anti-inflammatory drugs are a class of pharmaceuticals designed to temporarily relieve pain and inflammation in body tissue.

They consist of 2 big groups, steroid, and nonsteroid.

Research claim that nonsteroidal anti-inflammation causes less side effect and are less addictive.

This is why you can have it without a prescription.

Examples of OTC NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Mortin), Naproxen (Aleve), and Aspirin.

So how do they soothe the pain?

Simple: by blocking the production of prostaglandins.

More specifically, most painkillers inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX 1 and 2), which is an enzyme used by your body to produce prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins refer to a branch of chemicals produced by the cells of the body and play many key roles.

They encourage inflammation, which is key for healing, shield the lining of the stomach from the damaging impact of acid, aid in the blood clotting function of platelets, among many other vital functions.

But here’s the tricky part.

These chemicals also cause fever and pain by increasing temperature and dilating blood vessels (the actual culprit behind the swelling and redness in the affected place).

By limiting the production of prostaglandins, pain killers can help soothe the discomfort of fever and swelling and lower inflammation and pain.

Is There Any good?

OTC pain meds aren’t all bad.

Sore muscles and achy joints after an intense workout are inevitable.

Soothing the pain a little can help you get back there.

What’s more?

NSAIDs are used to manage pain associated with tendonitis, sprains, strains, dental problems, fever, and other aches pains.

The Painful Truth – The Problems With Taking OTC drugs in Runners

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs affect your entire body, not just the region that hurts.

There’s a long list of adverse side effects related to the use of OTC painkiller meds during exercise, research revealed.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the major downsides.

Limit Inflammation

When you run or perform any sort of exercise, you’re technically damaging your muscles.

That’s a good thing, because your body then adapts and repairs the damage, making it stronger, fitter, and faster.

Here’s the bad news.

Some OTC painkillers may get in the way of this process.

As previously stated, most painkillers work by limiting the production of substances that cause inflammation, according to research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This thwarts the healing process, leading to prolonged recovery and more overuse injuries down the road.

Limit Pain

Pain serves as an alert system.

It signals when you need to keep going or when it’s time to take a rest day.

Turning to painkillers and hitting the pavement hard with a sore knee or ankle is a good way to make your injury worse.

In other words, devoid of pain, you can actually cause longer-term damage.

The other structure can compromise for a long time before the real damage visible.

 

Kidney Damage

An experiment of ultramarathoners published in XXX revealed that those who popped 400 milligrams of ibuprofen every four hours during a 50-mile race event were more likely to suffer acute kidney injury than those who took placebos.

The reason?

One of the main functions of prostaglandins is regulating blood flow to the kidneys.

Hard exercise already a cause of a higher level of ureum and creatinine. By blocking prostaglandins, cause serious damage, or in severe cases, failure.

Gastrointestinal Damage

A hard run may compromise the lining of the gastrointestinal tract—even for just a short time.

When exercising, blood is shifted is to your legs muscles and away from other organs, especially your stomach and intestines.

This is actually one reason there’s such a thing as runners’ diarrhea.

Mixing intense running with NSAIDs can make the damage worse since the drugs may, again, limit the production of substances that protect the lining of your intestines.

If you’re regularly struggling with runners trots while running, the medicine you’re taking could be the culprit.

Those who had ulcers or ongoing gastritis take caution!

Musculoskeletal Injuries

Research reported that taking anti-inflammatories before working out may limit the production of collagen, an essential component of muscles, bones, and connective tissues.

This increases your risk of musculoskeletal injuries, such as Achilles tendonitis, hamstring pulls, and calf strains.

Limit Muscle Growth

Research out of the Karolinska Institutet, revealed that the long terms use of NSAIDS might limit muscle growth in young, healthy individuals engaging in strength training.

Study reported by the journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences showed that taking the drugs after exercise may inhibit the muscle growth effect provided by exercise.

Conclusion

It’s not recommended not safe to take NSAIDs before running.

All drugs have side-effects, even if they’re sold over-the-counter.

There’s also no evidence showing that NSAIDs improve performance, reduce muscle damage, or help in minimizing post-run soreness, according to research.

So what should you do in case you’re dealing with running pains?

Start by consulting your physician before you start popping pills.

It’s better to take the right prevention than curing problems that not exactly there.

It’s like walking blindly in the dark, either you lost, or you fall.

Furthermore, right after a run is the worst time to take any for pain relief.

During that window, the inflammation is serving its purpose, which is helping your body to patch up the micro-trauma.

You have to let your body do its work naturally before you add up more chemicals that lead to addiction.

Take A Step Back

If you’re running too hard or often to feel pain during or after training, rethink your exercise schedule.

You can also grab some nice pair of insoles to add more support.

I’d also recommend doing any of these cardio alternatives to running to keep your fitness level in check.

Pay Attention to Soreness

Mild to moderate soreness 24 to 48 hours following a hard run is normal. But serious pain and tenderness experienced during running or right after a run is not the goal.

Eat Well

Pay attention to your diet and hydration to reduced risk for muscle and gut health issues like cramping, nausea, or diarrhea.

Rest It

Don’t forget to schedule a rest day or cross-train—your body deserves it.

Try the ratio of 5:2 or 3:1 between exercise and rest.

Conclusion

There you have it.

If you’re in the habit of using OTC pills to soothe your running aches and pains then today’s article should be a clear warning.

It’s not the way to go—and more than likely you’re doing your body more harm than good.

And you don’t want that.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below.

In the meantime thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong and stay safe out there.

David D.

running pain
female runner back pain after running at park with morning light

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