This one’s inspired by a conversation I had today. Someone saw the bandage on my wrist and asked what happened, to which I responded that I tore a ligament whilst boxing. He said I should take anti-inflammatories to fix it. Me, being a know-it-all, said that anti-inflammatories wouldn’t help since my swelling is already gone. He proceeded to say “are you a doctor?”, then claimed to have worked as one at various private gyms. Unwilling to match wits with someone in their own field, I shrugged it off and went home to do some research.
Well, turns out I’m right (as per usual). I don’t know if he was actually a doctor or not but in your face random guy, you’re wrong. Anti-inflammatories inhibit the production of prostaglandins, which is a chemical released by the tissue that causes swelling and increase the electrical pain signal from the damaged area. Basically, it’s a pain killer that can reduce swelling. It does not help with tissue repair. In fact, it can inhibit recovery by blocking protein synthesis (Dr. Hakan Alfredson). So not only was I right, the guy trying to prove me wrong was totally arguing in the wrong direction. Here’s some more proof (NSAID stands for Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs):
In spite of the widespread use of NSAIDs there is no convincing evidence as to their effectiveness in the treatment of acute soft tissue injuries.” (Bruckner, P. Clinical Sports Medicine. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995, pp. 105-109.)
NSAIDs have been shown to delay and hamper the healing in all the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Anti-inflammatories can delay healing and delay it significantly, even in muscles with their tremendous blood supply. In one study on muscle strains, Piroxicam essentially wiped out the entire inflammatory proliferative phase of healing (days 0-4). At day two there were essentially no macrophages (cells that clean up the area) in the area and by day four after the muscle strain, there was very little muscle regeneration compared to the normal healing process. The muscle strength at this time was only about 40 percent of normal.(Greene, J. Cost-conscious prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for adults with arthritis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 152:1995-2002.)
Muscles injuries treated with Flurbiprofen (NSAID) were significantly weaker. The muscle fibers were shown under the microscope to have incomplete healing because of the medication. (Almekinders, L. An in vitro investigation into the effects of repetitive motion and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication on human tendon fibroblasts. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1995; 23:119-123.)
I have heaps more but I doubt anybody will read it all. Suffice to say, anti-inflammatories are bad.
I realise I’m tooting my own horn a bit here but I find it very satisfying when I find out somebody trying to prove me wrong was wrong all along, and this event is still fresh in my mind (happened a few hours ago).
Well, the moral of this story is that anti-inflammatories do not speed up the recovery process, and in fact are more likely to slow it down. They have also been linked to some other health issues lately. I won’t get into them, but you can Google “side effects of anti-inflammatories” if you’re interested. The other moral of this story is:
Well, what should you take if not anti-inflammatories? As a true scholar, I know when to draw the line and say there is a limit to my knowledge. Honestly, it depends on what the injury is. Personally, I avoid all drugs. I haven’t taken any medication for the past 9 years and have only felt stronger every year. I catch a cold about once a year and it goes away within a week. I have some permanent injuries but since I learned more about nutrition, the pain has been mostly absent. This is my own personal approach – I’m not saying all drugs are bad for you, but if you can avoid it, then avoid it. I don’t think it’s good for your body to be popping pills like candy. I know for a fact that people who take painkillers often have a much lower pain threshold (another reason why I never take painkillers).
What do I do during recovery if I don’t rely on pills? Well, I do all the scientifically sound stuff like increase protein intake (as your body needs the amino acids to repair damaged tissue), increase or maintain a good level of micronutrients and other essential fatty acids (omega 3 being a good one), follow the RICE procedure (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) for the following three days to a week after injury, and engage in rehabilitation exercises for the injured area to rebuild flexibility and functional strength. See, these things make more sense don’t they? Pssh. Anti-inflammatories my foot.