Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 09-12-2013
A recent experience with one of our patients illustrates a very important point about the use of over the counter anti-inflammatory medications and why their use is something you should absolutely avoid –despite what you may hear from TV ads, friends, family or even your physician. The patient in question is a teacher and part-time fitness instructor who was having some issues with her feet. When asked if she suffered from any other aches and pains, aside from her feet, she said "When you are as active as I am, lots of things hurt… feet, knees, back. . . I just take Advil and I push through". Obviously, this is not an uncommon statement, particularly among people as active as she is. However, when you think about how our bodies actually work and what these medications do, the reason why it’s a problem becomes clear. YOUR BODY’S NATURAL HEALING RESPONSE: Inflammation is part of the body’s natural complex response to harmful stimuli such as damaged cells or other irritants. When we get injured or infected, localized swelling helps to remove harmful stimuli and begins the process of rebuilding damaged cells and tissues. Because the inflammatory response requires constant stimulation to be sustained, once the harmful stimuli has been removed, the inflammation stops. In other words, when you get injured (or even just a little overworked), inflammation is not your enemy, it’s actually one of the best friends your body could have and shouldn’t be interfered with. ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES PREVENT MUSCLE REPAIR & GROWTH: An important part of the healing process, whether from injury or overwork, is muscle repair and growth. Thanks to on-going research, we now know this natural acute inflammatory response is in fact NECESSARY for stimulating post-exercise muscle repair and growth. So, by taking anti-inflammatories to relieve short term pain/discomfort, we’re actually interrupting our own natural, protective and self-limiting healing response and preventing muscle growth (and limiting the benefits we expect to gain from working out in the first place). Our bodies are remarkable creations that have evolved over time to allow for natural healing and regeneration. While there are extreme cases where the body’s natural system doesn’t provide what’s needed on its own, the vast majority of the time it’s best to focus on what’s actually causing the pain in the first place rather than on trying to artificially mask symptoms. In case you’re wondering about our highly active teacher and part-time fitness instructor mentioned above, this is exactly the approach we’re taking with her and it has already made a real difference for her! If you’ve been injured or are experiencing pain or discomfort as a result of physical activity, instead of reaching for the anti-inflammatories, reach for the phone instead and give us a call. We’re here to help!