Friday, September 11, 2009

The Anti-Inflammatory Myth

“There is no indication or rationale for the current prophylactic use of NSAIDs by athletes, and such ritual use represents misuse.”

Say what? If you’re like a lot of my friends you might want to re-think your use of vitamin I. NSAIDs might be the most commonly-used “supplement” in the sports world. The latest research indicates this should change. Check out this article from Gretchen Reynolds (who has been on a roll with cutting edge advice lately):

Phys Ed: Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?

Essentially, a bevy of studies have shown that using anti-inflammatory medication to reduce exercise-induced inflammation and, hence, protect ourselves against injury doesn’t work. As the article states, this is a very common practice (A study of professional Italian soccer players found that 86 percent used anti-inflammatories during the 2002-2003 season).

In the sports world jargon, up may as well be down. Here’s an explanation:

“ Warden and other researchers have found that, in laboratory experiments on animal tissues, NSAIDs actually slowed the healing of injured muscles, tendons, ligament, and bones. “NSAIDs work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins,”substances that are involved in pain and also in the creation of collagen, Warden says.”

I’ve always tried to limit my NSAID intake to when necessary. All drugs are hard on one human system or another, so there’s always a trade off to consider. This, however, has not meant that I used them sparingly. Like most athletes, I suffer from a lot of aches, pains, and inflammation. However I never took these to mask pain. I took them because I thought keeping inflammation at bay would reduce the odds of injury. Apparently this is false. In a study done at the Western States 100:

Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories.

I guess this puts us right back in the no pain, no gain school of training. Next time things start to hurt a little consider this:

If “you’re taking ibuprofen before every workout, you lessen this training response,” Warden says. Your bones don’t thicken and your tissues don’t strengthen as they should. They may be less able to withstand the next workout. In essence, the pills athletes take to reduce the chances that they’ll feel sore may increase the odds that they’ll wind up injured — and sore.

Now we just need to interpret which is the good pain that we should push through, and which is the bad pain that’s hurting us.


screwdestiny said...

Yeah, when my legs are so sore the next day that I can't walk down stairs, I just suck it up. But then, I hate pills.

CT Olson said...

interestingly I've not used any in about a year or so and not suffered from it (knock on wood no serious injuries).

I think learning to pay attention to post-workout recovery, proper warmup and cooldown (which I didn't do in years past and paid the price) and using supplementation has been the keys for me for recovering.

I kind of stopped using them after a minor surgery years ago when my doc said use of NSAIDs up to 3 weeks prior to surgery might cause thin blood and excessive bleeding post-op. So it just got me to thinking do I really want to be walking around with serious effects like that so I started backing off of using them. In the past I would pop 2-3 of them after a typical strenuous workout session and I wonder if it had some deleterious effects.

Reedster said...

Yea, I was always a little at odds with the idea of stopping the inflammation, when part of the reason for the inflammation was to help the body. Of course, my back is bothering me from a short day of bouldering and another day of single speeding, so I downed 3 of them pretty pink pills earlier this evening.


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Glad to help. I'm still hearing a lot on both sides of this issue. Should be interesting to see how it sorts out.