Dangers of Pain Killers for Runners
Runners are constantly putting pressure on their muscles, knees, and joints. As a result, they are more prone to injuries. Training for marathons and other running events requires extensive strength, balance, and flexibility conditioning. In order to alleviate the pain from an injury or intense workout, some runners take pain killers. The problem is that many athletes are unaware of just how dangerous these medications can be for them.
A Harmful Combination
Over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are commonly used to reduce the pain or swelling associated with a sprain or muscle soreness. When runners have a sprained ankle or other injury, it might seem like a good idea to take one of these medications. However, because of the circumstances, runners should be extremely careful. NSAIDs are known to inhibit hormones that assist in normalizing the blood flow to the kidneys, called prostaglandins. The interference with prostaglandins, combined with physical exertion and the possibility of dehydration, can overwhelm the kidneys in a potentially lethal way. Runners are often dehydrated for races and they definitely expend a lot of physical energy, so they are at a much higher risk for kidney problems that occur from taking NSAIDs. To make the situation even more dangerous, runners will sometimes take a lot more pills than the recommended dosage. Since they are demanding the maximum effort from their body, it might seem logical to them to take more pills. Also, if one or two pills help to relieve some of the pain, runners may think that taking several more could help provide extended relief. Unfortunately, these kinds of calculations might have severe consequences. An example would be Stephanie Ehret, who took 12 ibuprofen pills before competing in a 24-hour track run. Soon after the race, she was seriously ill, and vomiting up part of her digestive-tract lining; a symptom that is considered to be a precursor to kidney failure. Although taking too many NSAIDs is a major concern, doctors insist that even one pill can lead to similar illnesses in the same manner. It is the elevated physical exertion and dehydration that cause the NSAIDs to react so negatively, at any dosage. Therefore, it is imperative that any athlete who is taking any form of medication needs to be monitored closely by a doctor. In addition, they must watch their fluid intake and make sure that they do not get even slightly dehydrated. This could mean drinking more fluids than a runner who is not taking any medication. Again, athletes should talk with their physician in determining the best precautions to take for their individual situation.
Besides the above hazards, NSAIDs raise a person's blood pressure. During a run or workout, blood pressure is naturally raised. So, runners taking NSAIDs will have their blood pressure increased from two things. If that runner also has high blood pressure to begin with, a mini-stroke or heart attack is possible. NSAIDs block cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that protects the heart. This is another reason why NSAIDS raise the risk of heart attack for runners. Certain forms of cyclooxygenase protect the stomach lining from digestive acids as well. When NSAIDS block cyclooxygenase, runners might experience nausea, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, and cramps. Plus, the risk of hyponatremia is boosted from taking NSAIDs and running. In the case of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance causes the swelling of the brain. Hyponatremia can result in death. Doctors maintain that there is no valid reason to take ibuprofen during a race. Persistent pain is a sign from the body to stop and reevaluate the training or activity. It should never be ignored. Runners take NSAIDs to hide the pain, and if it works, they cannot benefit from the warning signals that their body is delivering.