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Side effects of pain killer for runners



Taking pain killers before or during a race can cause some serious side effects. Whether it’s a 10K race or an ultra-marathon, pain killers without a prescription do have side effects even when used according to package directions. Because runners often have to deal with muscle or joint pain, it is very common for runners to rely on pain killers to be able to keep running or racing.


The most common pain killers are acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSDAIDs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen and Naproxen). The third common pain relief drug for runners is cortisone injections.


Side Effects:

NSAIDs– Taking ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce inflammation and pain, but taking these pain killers during a race can cause some severe side effects. NSAIDs inhibit prostaglandins, hormones that help normalize blood flow to the kidneys. Taking ibuprofen during a race, with all the physical exertion, dehydration can cause liver damage. NSAIDs also block an enzyme (COX) that normally protects the heart, and the stomach lining from digestive acids. When this enzyme is blocked, runners may experience nausea, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding and cramps. When taking NSAIDs during an ultra-marathon this drug increases the risk of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance that can cause the brain to swell. Some research was done during an ultra-marathon, compared to ibuprofen non-users, ibuprofen users actually ended up with more inflammation. NSAIDs can also impair the healing process for soft-tissue injuries.

Acetaminophen– Taking acetaminophen during a race can also upset the stomach, cause nausea and diarrhea. Taking high doses of Tylenol or Panadol can be very toxic and cause damage to the liver as well. We have to be careful as acetaminophen is included in many cough and cold medications.

Cortisone injections– This is another very common treatment for runners with any kind of muscle or joint injury, cortisone shots are only a short-term anti-inflammatory, pain relief drug. The problem with cortisone shots is that it is only a short-term (six weeks to six months) pain-relief intervention. Cortisone shots do not provide the necessary care to correct muscle imbalances or biomechanics issues. Getting more than one cortisone shot in a year can lead to more damage. A few injections into a joint will attack the soft tissue, wear away the cartilage, breakdown the collagen framework and weaken tendons. A cortisone shot can be an effective tool to ease inflammation so the runner can start to rebuild stability, strength and mobility in the joint.

There is no reason to take pain killers while running. Experiencing any muscle, joint pain or inflammation during a race is a signal that you need to look into your injury and get it treated and also reevaluating your training program and intensity to make sure you stay injury free.

Natural Therapies for Pain-Relief: Taking pain medicine for runners only relieves the symptoms of any injury. It takes away some of the pain and inflammation, but it has no benefits with the healing process and recovery. When dealing with any pain or injury, the best treatment is to start with the traditional RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Then, runners should start looking into natural homeopathic therapies. Natural and alternative medicine aims to resolve imbalances and treat the injury. Alternative therapies focus more on biomechanics, alignment and even nutrition, these are all details that can solve runners’ problems.


Natural Alternative Therapies:

Acupuncture- The Chinese therapy involves inserting fine needles in specific areas of the body to improve circulation, restore energy, and activate healing. Acupuncture is very efficient for runners’ injuries such as knee pain, plantar fasciitis, IT band, sprains, lower-back pain. For people who can handle more pain, dry needling is even more beneficial but more intense.

Sport massage- Stroking movements flush out waste products and dilate blood vessels so oxygen and nutrients flow more quickly to speed recovery. A sport massage stretches the muscles, releases tension, and breaks down scar tissue, it can also improve flexibility and prevent injuries. Having a sport massage within 24hrs after an intense or long-distance run can soothe muscles and enhance recovery. Runners should get a sport massage regularly, according to their training plan.

Imagery- By calming our mind and body, and visualizing a positive scene can make a difference in our muscles tightness. When our mind is relaxed, our muscles hold less tension, which means we’re less likely to feel pain. Imagery can also help healing, stress increases cortisol levels, which can also slow injury repair. If you feel soreness or pain during the last few kms in a race, imagine the pain leaving your body when you exhale, or picture yourself smiling at the finish line.

Natural remedies, supplements and food- Natural anti-inflammatory remedies like arnica can help reduce swelling. Supplements like bromelain (enzyme found in pineapple stems or core), curcumin (also found in turmeric spice) are known as the best natural supplements to reduce inflammation. Also, to include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet will speed up recovery and healing; Turmeric, ginger, garlic, pineapple etc..

Chiropractic treatment- This type of therapy corrects alignment issues to keep the body operating efficiently. Chiropractic treatments focuses not only on the spine, but sports chiropractor also analyze and treat biomechanics and make adjustments to imbalanced areas throughout the body. Chronical injuries are often due to spinal misalignment and muscular imbalances which can cause muscle tightness and weakness. This type of treatment is very beneficial, as our spine alignment is constantly affected when running long-distance, often or intensely.


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