Should I be taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to prevent getting injured?

This is a question which we frequently get asked by patient’s who are training to run the marathon. There is a widely held belief that taking NSAIDs can prevent you from getting injured. Because NSAIDs are very readily over the counter patients think the must be harmless.

However, taking NSAIDs even for a fairly short length of time, can be harmful to your stomach, raise your blood pressure and have number of negative affects on your health. The risks are even greater when people are engaged in high volumes of training and exercising and pushing their bodies to the limit.

Sadly, also the benefits people expect to gain by taking NSAIDs as a preventative treatment for pain and injury have been shown to be false. In fact research studies have suggested that people take NSAIDs are actually at greater risk of pain and injury.  How could this be? Its thought that the bodies natural healing of very small trauma in the tissue is suppressed which allows small injuries to get bigger. There is also evidence that NSAIDs prevent the normal strengthening affects and toughening of the tissues in response to exercise.  Actually making the tissues more prone to injury –  An analogy here would be to the calluses forming on our hands from gardening which provide a form of protection.

If you are thinking of taking NSAIDs to prevent injury – the answer is simple – don’t. The best ways to prevent injury are through good training methods and listening to our bodies – not medications.

In the attached article ‘NSAID Prophylactic use in Sport’ Complete Physio Clinical director Dave Baker recently researched  and throat this commentary for the ACPSEM Scotland (Association of Charted Physiotherapists in Sports and Exercise Medicine). In this piece Dave considers in greater depth and detail some of the evidence which has shown now the potential risks and harmful effects of taking NSAIDs to prevent pain and injury. Dave also considers some of the issues that this is starting to create in the culture of elite sports where pressure to perform and lack of recovery time off and drives medical teams and players to become overly reliant on pain medications such as NSAIDs. Unfortunately as well as causing themselves potential harm to their overall health in the short and long-term they are likely to also be increasing their risks of soft tissue injuries.

Anyone considering taking NSAIDs for a pre-existing pain or injury should always ideally check first with there GP, consultant, or healthcare professional who can screen them for potential risks of contraindication and complication. Where a decision is made to take NSAIDs Patient should always be encouraged to take the minimum possible dosed for the shortest possible time to minimise their risks.

If you have have any further questions relating to this topic please email dave@complete-physio.co.uk. Dave Baker was one of the first Physios in the UK to qualify to be able to prescribe medications to patients. He lectures at a number of universities and free-lance around the UK on a range of topics relating to prescribing medications and medicines management.