Can Runners Take Ibuprofen? Everything You Need To Know

Written By: Jeremy N

If you're like most runners, you've probably been told time and time again that ibuprofen is a big no-no.

After all, it's an anti-inflammatory medication and runners are always told to stay away from anything that could potentially cause inflammation. However, the reality is that ibuprofen can be a helpful. Here's everything you need to know about taking ibuprofen as a runner. 

In modest amounts (600-1000mg a couple days a month), NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can be relatively harmless, but prolonged medication with Ibuprofen can be harmful to your stomach, kidneys and heart, especially during vigorous blocks of training. 

Can Runners Take Ibuprofen? Everything You Need To Know

Can Runners Take Ibuprofen Everything You Need To KnowCan Runners Take Ibuprofen Everything You Need To Know

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What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a type of NSAID. It works by inhibiting the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. This helps to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Ibuprofen is available in both OTC and prescription forms.

What are the Benefits of Taking Ibuprofen?

There are several benefits to taking ibuprofen as a runner. First, it can help to reduce pain and inflammation. This can be helpful if you're dealing with a nagging injury or if you're recovering from a hard workout. Additionally, ibuprofen can help to reduce fever and can also be used as a preventative measure to help reduce the risk of developing blood clots.

What are the Risks of Taking Ibuprofen?

Like all medications, there are some risks associated with taking ibuprofen. The most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset, which can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation.

Additionally, ibuprofen can increase the risk of developing ulcers and can also cause kidney damage if it is taken in large doses or for extended periods of time. It's important to speak with your doctor before taking ibuprofen to make sure that it is safe for you.


What Types of Pain Relievers are there for Runners?

There are two main types of pain relievers that runners can take: over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription medications. OTC medications include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Prescription medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac (Voltaren) and celecoxib (Celebrex). 


Can Runners Take Ibuprofen Everything You Need To KnowCan Runners Take Ibuprofen Everything You Need To Know

Why is Taking Ibuprofen Before Running a Race Bad?

One of the most common reasons why runners are told to avoid taking ibuprofen is because it can increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal issues. If you take ibuprofen before running a race, it can increase your chances of developing diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems

This is particularly problematic because it can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous during a long race. Additionally, taking ibuprofen before running a race can also mask pain and inflammation, which could potentially lead to further injury.


Why Does Ibuprofen Not Help if it Reduces Inflammation?

Ibuprofen is often not recommended for runners because it can actually reduce inflammation.

While this may seem counterintuitive, the reality is that too much inflammation can actually be detrimental to healing. When you have an injury, your body needs a certain amount of inflammation in order to repair the damaged tissue. 

If you reduce the inflammation too much, it can actually delay healing and potentially make the injury worse.


Should I Take Ibuprofen After a Long Run?

Ibuprofen can be taken after a long run to help reduce pain and inflammation. However, it's important to speak with your doctor before taking any medication after a long run. This is because the increased risk of dehydration and gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, you should always drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious meal after a long run. This will help to replenish any fluids and nutrients that you may have lost during the run. Muscle soreness (muscle damage) is also common after a long run.

Taking a hot bath or using a heating pad can help to reduce muscle soreness.

Long runs can also develop acute injuries such as hamstring strains, calf cramps, or blisters. It's important to seek medical attention if you develop any of these injuries.

Taking ibuprofen can help to reduce pain and inflammation. However, it's important to speak with your doctor before taking any medication. This is because the increased risk of dehydration and gastrointestinal issues.

Additionally, you should always drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious meal after a long run. This will help to replenish any fluids and nutrients that you may have lost during the run.


How Does Ibuprofen help with muscle soreness?

Ibuprofen can help to reduce muscle soreness by reducing inflammation. This is particularly helpful if you are dealing with DOMS (delayed onset muscle pain). Ibuprofen can also be taken before a run to help prevent muscle pain or soreness.

However, it's important to speak with your doctor before taking any medication before a run.

This is because the increased risk of dehydration and gastrointestinal issues. Additionally, you should always drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious meal before a long run. This will help to replenish any fluids and nutrients that you may have lost during the run.

How are Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Going to Hurt My Training?

Anti-inflammatory drugs can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to training. This is because they can reduce inflammation, which is a necessary part of the healing process.

Additionally, they can also mask pain, which could potentially lead to further injury.

Finally, they can also cause gastrointestinal upset, which can lead to dehydration. All of these factors can contribute to reduced performance and increased risk of injury.

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What Are the Alternatives to Anti-Inflammatory Drugs?

There are several alternatives to taking anti-inflammatories as a runner. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a pain reliever that can be taken safely by runners. Additionally, there are several topical pain medications that can be applied directly to the skin to help reduce pain and inflammation. 

These include creams and gels that contain NSAIDs such as diclofenac or ibuprofen. Finally, there are several natural remedies that can be used to help reduce pain and inflammation. These include omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.


When Should I Take Ibuprofen Before Running?

Ideally, you should take ibuprofen about 30 minutes before running. This will give the drug time to be absorbed into your system and start working.

However, if you are in pain, you can take the medication as needed. Just be sure to drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious meal afterward to help prevent gastrointestinal upset.

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Issues with Pain Relievers Before Running or a Race

There are several issues that can occur if you take pain medication before running or a race. First, they can mask pain, which could potentially lead to further injury. Additionally, they can also cause gastrointestinal upset, which can lead to dehydration.

Finally, they can also reduce inflammation, which is a necessary part of the healing process. All of these factors can contribute to reduced performance and increased risk of injury.

Endurance runners are no strangers to the use of NSAIDs, with one study finding that 46% of London Marathon runners planned to take an NSAID during the race. However, this comes with its own set of risks.

Depending on the dosage and duration, known risks of NSAIDs include gastrointestinal ulcers, acute kidney injury, and cardiovascular issues.

Liver Damage

One of the most serious potential side effects of taking ibuprofen is liver damage. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and NSAIDs have been linked to liver damage.

The risk is highest when taking large doses of ibuprofen for long periods of time, but even short-term use can increase the risk. If you have any liver problems, talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen.

Kidney Damage

Ibuprofen can also cause kidney damage. This is because it can cause inflammation and swelling in the kidneys. Additionally, ibuprofen can also reduce blood flow to the kidneys, which can lead to further damage.

If you have any kidney problems, talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen.

Gastrointestinal Problems-Ibuprofen can also cause gastrointestinal issues such as indigestion, heartburn, and stomach pain. Additionally, it can also cause diarrhea and constipation. If you have any gastrointestinal problems, talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen.

Runners Trots

One of the most common side effects of taking ibuprofen is runners trots, which is diarrhea that occurs during or after running. This is caused by the increased blood flow to the intestines that occurs with exercise. 

Additionally, ibuprofen can also contribute to dehydration, which can worsen the symptoms of runners trots. If you experience runners trots, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and see a doctor if the symptoms persist.

Overdose

Taking too much ibuprofen can lead to serious side effects such as liver damage, kidney damage, and gastrointestinal bleeding. If you think you have taken too much ibuprofen, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood becomes too low. This can be caused by drinking too much water, which can dilute the sodium in the blood.

Additionally, certain medications, such as ibuprofen, can also cause hyponatremia. Symptoms of hyponatremia include confusion, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If you think you have hyponatremia, see a doctor immediately.

Slows Down Recovery and Progress

While pain relievers can help you manage pain in the short-term, they can actually slow down your recovery in the long-term.

This is because they can mask pain, which can lead to further injury. Additionally, they can also reduce inflammation, which is a necessary part of the healing process. All of these factors can contribute to reduced performance and increased risk of injury.

If you are experiencing pain, it is important to talk to your doctor to ensure that you are taking the proper precautions and not putting yourself at risk for further injury.


What If You Need to Take A Pain Killer Before Running?

If you need to take a painkiller before running, aspirin is the best option. However, ibuprofen is also a good option. If you have any other medical conditions, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any medication.

Natural Alternatives to NSAIDs - There are a few natural alternatives to NSAIDs that can help reduce pain and inflammation. These include omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, ginger, and boswellia. Additionally, there are a few lifestyle changes that can help reduce pain and inflammation, such as exercising regularly, losing weight, and managing stress.

Overall, ibuprofen for runners can help relieve pain from an acute injury or sore muscles, however, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects. 

If you have any other medical conditions, be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any medication. Additionally, there are a few natural alternatives to NSAIDs that can help reduce pain and inflammation. 


Taking it After Running? Why You Should Think Twice Before Taking High-Doses of NSAIDs

A recent study in the United Kingdom sought to better understand the possible repercussions of taking high doses of NSAIDS.

To do this, the study conducted an online observational, non-interventional, cross-sectional survey of 806 Parkrun UK participants over the age of 18.

The findings were that “Ibuprofen was the most commonly used NSAID at 81.1%”. Out of the 806 participants, a third of runners experienced some sort of adverse drug reaction associated with NSAIDs, most commonly gastrointestinal (stomach/intestine problems).

Furthermore, about half of the runners said that they used NSAIDs without any medical advice at all.

Finally, over 90% of the runners interviewed stated that they would appreciate more advice about NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen.

The study concluded that recreational runners are prone to ingesting high amounts of oral NSAIDs, but with more information they might be able to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of taking over-the-counter medication.

How Should You Interpret These Findings?

If we extrapolate this data, it's safe to assume that many recreational runners take some amount of NSAIDs to continue training through pain, or take it for the anti-inflammatory benefits.

There is nothing inherently wrong with taking a modest amount of NSAIDs like Ibuprofen every now and then for pain relief, but prolonged amounts in high enough doses can have health implications on your stomach and kidneys.

This is especially true when an athlete (of any level) is training hard. Running can be hard on the body and taking small amounts can help with pain relief. 

A good rule of thumb: if you are taking Ibuprofen for the sake of pain relief just so you can get your run in, then it's best just to take a day or two off to let yourself health naturally.

Furthermore, taking Ibuprofen can aid in pain relief, but it can also prolong the healing process in certain cases. Best to go with the old adage of Rest, Ice, Elevation, Compression (RICE), to help your little injury spots heal up.

The largest misconception with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen is that it allows you to train harder and longer, and this is a little unfounded, as there has been little to no research to suggest this would be the case.

Furthermore, a Dutch study from 2015 noted that though exercise itself will cause the occasional leakage in your intestines from blood being diverted from organs to muscles during exercise, any damage is minor and temporary at most.

Conversely, athletes who did take ibuprofen, the cells didn’t return to normal for several hours.

To say it plainly, although we know that there are indeed short term repercussions to the use of NSAIDs during strenuous activity, we do not actually know the potential long term health effects of taking this medication.

Please be aware that you should always consult your doctor before taking any sort of medication. You should understand the benefits and drawbacks, and why you are actually ingesting this medication (even if it is over-the-counter).


How You Can Still Take Ibuprofen and Other NSAIDS

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As we said before, consult your doctor before taking any sort of medication, including NSAIDs like Ibuprofen.

The general recommendation for adults (18+) to aid in mild pain is 400 milligrams (mg) every four to six hours, as needed.

Preferably with a meal so your stomach can process into your body more effectively. If you experience any stomach pain, stop taking it immediately.

For reference, Ibuprofen usually comes in a dose of 200-220 mg per pill, so you would be looking at about 2 pills, twice a day, with breakfast and dinner.

Ideally, you should not be taking part in any vigorous exercise while medicating with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, but if you are a runner you might ignore that. Just make your best effort to be smart in how you apply NSAIDs within your training regiment.

Ibuprofen should be able to be applied into your medication within reason, but you should understand the good, the bad, and the harmful when it comes to taking these medications.


Alternative Solutions To Recovery

Taking NSAIDs like Ibuprofen are not the only way to seek pain relief and anti-inflammatory benefits. There are many safer and more effective methods of recovering from your vigorous training.

Here is a small list:

  • Sleep 8+ hours a night
    • This is the least thrilling, but sleep is the #1 legal performance enhancing method you can give yourself.
  • Eat a well-rounded, varied diet
    • Include a colorful range of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and clean sources of protein and fat.
  • Rest, Ice, Elevation, Compression (RICE)
  • Take Days OFF to rest and recover

Although these are not the most exciting means of recovery, these are all linked to faster recovery, improved performance, and long term quality of life. Give these a try before hopping right into finding a pill that will solve your problems.

How is Advil different from ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is indicated for the treatment of symptoms and relief in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, as well as common aches and painds and menstrual cramps (primary dysmenorrhea). Bayer Aspirin, Ecotrin, and Bufferin are some brand names for aspirin. Motrin and Advil are two ibuprofen brands

Can Runners Take Ibuprofen? Conclusion

Finding the balance between helpful and harmful can be hard when taking NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, but to summarize your findings make sure you consider all of the following:

  • NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen have been linked to heart attacks, stroke, kidney and gastrointestinal damage, even within a relatively short-term use.
  • You should consult a doctor before taking any NSAID medication.
  • Daily recommended dose is 400 milligrams (mg) every four to six hours.
  • Start by taking a conservative dose outside of physical activities to see how your body responds before going any further.
  • If you want Anti-inflammatory benefits, start with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) of the afflicted area.

Hopefully with these general guidelines you will be able to make an informed decision about how to either safely medicate with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen, or understand the alternative methods of treatment. Taking it after a race is totally normal. 


Hi, Jeremy Here, 

I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journeyAbout Jeremy. 

I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods

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