Most of us have been told at one time or another that we need to get more exercise, and there's good reason for that. Moving around helps us physically and mentally. It can reduce the risk of certain illnesses and it can get us through tough times. But what happens when exercise makes us hurt? Should we stop exercising, or is there something we can do to relieve the pain and get through it?
Taking ibuprofen after your exercise session may help reduce post-exercise pain. But how do you know whether that is the right course for you?
Understanding Your Pain
Before you treat your pain by taking ibuprofen or other medications, it's important to understand why you are experiencing pain related to exercise. Here are some tips for identifying the type of pain you feel:
- Muscle pain: When you start a new exercise or ramp up one you've been doing for a while, you develop small, microscopic tears in muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, you will likely feel an ache in the muscle, which can range from mildly annoying to quite painful depending on how hard you worked out. On the bright side, this process makes your muscles stronger.
- Joint pain: Unless you have injured your joint (a sprain or break, for example), joint pain is usually caused by arthritis. When you have arthritis, exercise can help keep your joints flexible, but it can also increase pain. This means you have to balance the need to keep moving with minimizing any discomfort the exercise causes.
- Soft tissue pain: Soft tissue pain may be felt in the joint, but it is caused by irritation or damage to tissue such as tendons and ligaments. This can be the result of an injury or constant repetitive use of a joint, such as tennis elbow.
Note that moderate to severe or persistent pain should be evaluated by your primary care physician.
Relieving the Pain
If you experience pain from exercise, you have several options to reduce this pain and still continue with your activity. Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works by reducing inflammation and pain. Over-the-counter tablets can be taken every four to six hours, as per the label's directions, but there's a limit to how many you can take per day. The directions will indicate that, depending on the dosage. While you can continue taking ibuprofen for a few days, it's not recommended that you take it daily to relieve pain unless your doctor has prescribed it.
Medications like ibuprofen can irritate your stomach lining and cause problems ranging from mild nausea to ulcers. There are also reports that some NSAIDs may increase your risk of developing heart disease. So while occasional use is fine, continued daily use should only be done under your doctor's supervision.
What About Taking Ibuprofen Before Exercise?
You may be tempted to try to prevent exercise pain by taking ibuprofen or other medications before you start your activity. Experts say this isn't a good idea. Aside from the side effects that you might experience from taking medications, research shows that taking ibuprofen before exercise may worsen damage to your body's tissues and delay healing.
What to Do if You Have Pain From Exercise
If you continue to have pain occasionally after exercise or when you change your routine, there are some nonmedicinal approaches you can take to help manage your pain:
- Use heat or ice, or alternate both, on the painful area.
- Support the painful area with a brace or bandage.
- Massage therapy.
If you have pain every day or after every exercise session, there may be an issue with the type of exercise you are doing or how you are doing it. If you attend a gym, ask a trainer to watch your techniques. It may be that some correction is all you need. If you exercise on your own, you may need to bring the intensity down, shorten the length of time, or switch to a different activity. Exercising is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but it's also important to exercise properly so you don't want to quit because of pain.