Athletes and Injury: Safely Using Over-the-Counter Pain Relief Medication

Experiencing pain, soreness, or discomfort is an inevitable part of being an athlete, and many people find pain relief by taking common over-the-counter medications such as Aleve, Motrin, and Advil. These medications are all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs.

NSAIDs can be effective pain relievers for many common athletic ailments, but like any medication, they come with their own set of potential side effects. The risk of side effects is often overlooked because of the prevalence of these medications, but it’s important to understand how NSAIDs work, what exactly their side effects can be, and what you can do to limit complications.

How NSAIDs Work:

When NSAIDs are taken, they work to treat pain by reducing prostaglandin production in the body. Prostaglandins are chemicals that are a part of the body’s inflammatory response. By blocking prostaglandin, NSAIDs reduce painful inflammation.

Potential Side Effects:

In addition to being a part of the body’s inflammation response, prostaglandins play an important role in regulating renal, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal function. Because of this, misuse of NSAIDs can result in kidney failure, heart attacks, and ulcers. The most common side effect of these drugs is an upset stomach; with stomach pains that can range in intensity from mild to severe.

What You Can Do to Limit NSAID Complications:

Studies have shown that the risk of NSAID side effects is increased for people who have existing heart, liver, or kidney disease. Anyone with these conditions should consult a physician before taking pain relievers. In addition, the maximum recommended dosages should not be exceeded for these products and a physician should also be consulted if an NSAID is used regularly for longer than six weeks.


References: In Motion (A Publication of the AOSSM); “Don’t Overdo the Ibuprofen”; Winter 2012;