Every day, people across the country take Ibuprofen to help ease the aches and pains of daily life. Many athletes, typically those in long, high-endurance events, often take Ibuprofen during the course of a race or even several times a day during long training sessions. But with the possibility of health risks, is this necessarily a good idea?

Ibuprofen, most commonly known as Advil or Motrin, is an over-the-counter, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs are typically used for the management of mild to moderate pain, fever and inflammation, which are promoted by the release of chemicals called prostaglandins. Ibuprofen blocks the enzyme that makes prostaglandins, resulting in lower levels. As a consequence, pain, fever and inflammation are reduced.

So, according to Dr. Heather Fullerton, M.D., Physiatrist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center-Round Rock, while there is a place for NSAIDs in athletics, it is important for athletes to remember that they are not without risk. For those taking these medications for general aches and pains and occasional use, the risks are minimal. However, those taking them for inflammation – things like tendonitis, bursitis and overuse injuries – the need to use higher amounts, which can cause intestinal bleeding, raises that risk.  Physicians recommend only using high doses for a limited amount of time and then to decrease as needed. For example, someone with ankle tendonitis might take four Advil three times a day, always with food, for 10 days and then scale down to two a day if needed.

NSAIDs can be helpful if used properly, explains Dr. Fullerton, but there are circumstances where they have No use:

  • DO NOT use prior to exercise. You do not want to mask how your body feels as pain is a way of telling you something is not right. Additionally, there is a risk of kidney damage if you take them and get dehydrated.
  • DO NOT use during exercise. If you must take something, take Tylenol, especially during long distance events where dehydration is an issue.
  • After an endurance event, to make sure your kidney function resumes, go to the bathroom prior to taking an NSAID.

While the most common side effects of Ibuprofen are minor, improper use can cause major health problems. NSAIDs reduce the ability of blood to clot and therefore increase bleeding after an injury. Ibuprofen may cause ulceration of the stomach or intestine, and the ulcers may bleed.

NSAIDs can also reduce the flow of blood to the kidneys and impair function of the kidneys. The impairment is most likely to occur in patients who already have impaired function of the kidney or congestive heart failure, and use of NSAIDs in these patients should be cautious. Fluid retention, blood clots, heart attacks, hypertension and heart failure have also been associated with the use of NSAIDs.

Dr. Fullerton went on to say that instead of just popping an Ibuprofen or other NSAID while playing a sport, here are a couple of things to do instead:

  • See a doctor to treat the underlying injury, rather than running through pain.
  • Ice the painful area before and after running for 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Talk to your doctor about a topical pain reliever that will not impact the stomach or kidneys.

Coping with injuries is tough, both mentally and physically, so it is critical to make sure that long-term health and longevity goals are always ahead of your short-term goals. Taking time off to rehabilitate an injury may seem hard at the time, but it could be the make the difference in avoiding permanent damage that could stop you from running or exercising altogether.


For more information, contact Baylor Scott & White at 512.509.0200.