Athletes and NSAIDs

Athletes need to stay on top of their game. When injuries arise, the primary thought process is to do whatever it takes to heal the injury and limit the pain.  Typically, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Advil, Tylenol and Aleve are used.  Unfortunately, there are many side effects to these medications that can cause significant harm to the body.

Two of the most common side effects of NSAIDs are kidney damage and stomach damage also referred to as renal and gastrointestinal respectively.   Kidney damage has been known as a potential adverse reaction to NSAIDs since they were approved by the FDA.  Kidney damage can occur as a result of short and long term consumption of NSAIDs. NSAIDs also change the water and sodium balancing function which can create serious problems during intense and vigorous situations with high heat and prolonged activity. You may as well wear a sign, “Please kill my kidneys”’, according to a Sports Medicine practitioner at Rice University.

GI damage can include stomach ulcers  which can be potentially lethal. Bleeding ulcers come about because of the effects of NSAIDs on blood platelet formation.

Individuals who consume NSAIDs also have an impaired response to viruses and bacteria making them more susceptible to  infection. This is a result of NSAIDs effect on immune system cells called neutrophils (one type of white blood cell.)

High mortality and morbidity rates:

The New England Journal of Medicine published an article in June of 1999 that stated, “It has been estimated conservatively that 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur… every year in the United States” More deaths occur every year from NSAIDs than acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, cervical cancer, or Hodgkin’s disease.

Despite the severity of NSAID toxicity, it remains a silent epidemic. The numbers are equivalent to the 15th leading cause of death.

According to painkillerawareness.org, the FDA has known about adverse reactions, but perhaps has not been vociferous enough in mandating warnings and labels for these adverse reactions.

Alternatives to NSAIDs

Sometimes time to heal is required.  And as much as patience is not a typical word that an athlete wants to hear, patience is necessary for most injuries.  There are no short cuts.  NSAIDs can oftentimes mask the pain and the athlete can make his or her injury far worse.

Ignoring the injury is even worse.  Some athletes think it is better to tough it out and work through the pain.  This is not a wise decision!  This can turn a small injury that needs a little time and a little treatment to heal into a large injury that can put the athlete out of commission for weeks or even the entire season.

When an injury occurs, bring it to the attention of the coach or trainer.  After they have evaluated, and if it is significant enough, get the injury evaluated by a trained medical practitioner.  This can be a licensed trainer, a licensed physical therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist or a medical doctor.

Always take the most conservative route first.  In other words, never look to surgery first!  Most injuries, including injuries to the knees and shoulders can be resolved and rehabilitated with proper treatment over time.

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