When he asked a new customer a few weeks ago what he had already tried for his back pain, he replied: “Vitamin I.”
He could see that I was confused – so he quickly clarified – “Ibuprofen.”
It’s the first time I’ve heard of the term, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard of people who take ibuprofen routinely or for an extended period of time. For some, it is because they are in pain, but for others, it is to prevent pain when they do something they know will hurt.
Ibuprofen is a type of NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that is commonly used to relieve inflammation and pain. Some reasons you might take it are because you’ve suffered an acute injury such as a sprain or strain, have a headache, your arthritis has flared, or you need to lower your fever. If you cannot control pain or inflammation naturally (such as through ice, rest, or therapeutic exercise), taking ibuprofen may help. But if you take it regularly to control and treat pain, or if you find that you always take it before certain types of exercise or activity just to avoid pain, then you need to worry. Long-term use of ibuprofen has consequences. Also, being in pain all the time or being in pain every time you exercise or do a certain activity is not normal and you should get this checked out.
So what are the consequences of having too much “Vitamin I”?
First, it is generally considered safe and minimal if you resort to Advil every now and then to relieve a headache or relieve a particularly painful episode of back pain. You should always consult your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any medications, including those like ibuprofen, which are readily available over the counter, but provided they have been released, it is rare for you to experience any harmful effects from the occasional dose of “Vitamin I.”
The problem is when you keep reaching for the Advil. At some point you want to think about what might be causing your pain to keep coming back. Any time you resort to something like ibuprofen to control recurring pain, just put a band-aid on the problem. If you have musculoskeletal pain such as back, knee, hip, shoulder pain or headache, remember that 80% of the time it can be resolved with exercise instead of medication. Talk to an exercise professional who can help you get off the “vitamin I” regimen.
Another common reason people resort to taking ibuprofen regularly is to prevent inflammation or sore muscles before a workout or intense activity. This is especially common with athletes and weekend warriors. It’s never a good idea. Research has shown that taking “Vitamin I” before exercise can affect your performance and hinder your recovery, not to mention the long-term health effects of such ibuprofen use.
In a study published by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers found that if long-distance runners took 600 mg of ibuprofen before an event, they had more tissue-damaging oxidative stress afterwards than those who did not, which belied the theory that “Vitamin I. “Can help you avoid inflammation. In this case it has increased.
Another study of cyclists found that ibuprofen can damage your intestines during exercise and lead to a leaky small intestine. Finally, they conducted animal studies that showed that taking “Vitamin I” as a prophylaxis for sore muscles actually hampers your recovery.
If you experience constant pain or severe pain after or during certain exercises and activities, it is a good idea to look at how to warm up or prepare for these things. If you have persistent problem areas like back or knee pain, there are corrective exercises you can learn to better prepare your joints for repetitive and strenuous activity. In many cases, corrective movements can help avoid pain entirely.
But at least they will help relieve pain you are having much faster and you will recover faster. And for tissue inflammation, there are great natural alternatives that are safe to take before a particularly strenuous exercise. Tea, tart cherry juice, and turmeric are all considered natural anti-inflammatory agents that are safe and not associated with the harmful side effects of “Vitamin I”.
While I’m a big proponent of avoiding medication whenever possible, there are times when it makes sense to take ibuprofen. But it should be occasional and minimal and you should always speak to your doctor to make sure it is safe. But even if your doctor says it’s okay, you should know that long-term use of ibuprofen can damage your digestive system, affect your hormones, and increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. It’s always best to look for natural ways to relieve pain when you have it. Exercise is my favorite medicine. Most importantly, if you experience recurrent or chronic pain, find out the cause and don’t use Vitamin I as a patch.
Dr. Carrie Jose, physical therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To contact her or get a free copy of her Back Pain and Sciatica Master Class, email her at [email protected] or visit cjphysicaltherapy.com.