injured runner

I was at the start of the CPC half marathon last weekend when a runner said to me that she had just taken some ibuprofen for a headache. I immediately thought, “oh no, bad idea.” While ibuprofen might help with a headache or with post-race inflammation, it can be too risky to take before a running event. This is something that I never do. Before mixing medication with running, it’s quite important for you to know the risks as well.

Ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), which can be particularly risky for runners. NSAIDs also include the common drugs aspirin and naproxen, as well as many others. When taken before or during a run, it can cause harm to your kidneys, increase your blood pressure to risky levels, and put you at greater risk for hyponatremia. No matter the reason for taking an NSAID, it is not often worth the risk.

Below is a list of some of the most common risks from mixing NSAIDs and running.

The risks of taking NSAIDs before or during a run

  • When mixed with physical exertion and dehydration, NSAIDs can be tough on your kidneys because they inhibit prostaglandins, which are hormones that help normalize blood flow to the kidneys.
  • When used during a long-distance running event, NSAIDs may increase the risk of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance that can cause the brain to swell.
  • NSAIDs can increase your blood pressure and aggravate hypertension. When you add this to exercise, your blood pressure could reach life-threatening levels.
  • NSAIDs may raise the risk of heart attack because they block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX) that normally protects the heart.
  • NSAID may cause nausea, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, and cramps due to the blocking of the enzyme COX that also protects the stomach lining from digestive acids.
  • NSAIDs may cause more inflammation than running without. Some studies have shown that people who took ibuprofen during a run had more inflammation.

Do remember that it is important to listen to your body. If you have any pain or inflammation that occur while running, pay attention. It is often a sign to pause your running and adjust your training regimen. It is normally not recommended to run though pain.

If your doctor does recommend any medication, be sure to verify that it is safe to take during physical activity or running. If you have unusual muscle pain for more than 48 hours, check with a medical specialist for proper treatment.

What is your experience with pain and running? Have you tried medications during your runs? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Laurie Villarreal

Laurie’s an accomplished endurance athlete and has been running since 1998. She’s the founder of House of Running and a professional Running Coach, a certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Health & Wellness Coach. Laurie’s trained and worked with nearly 1000 runners since 2010. She’s a master in her field with over 10,000 hours of run coaching experience. Laurie helps ambitious professionals make running part of their healthy lifestyle through on-on-one online coaching and fun group training programs. She has a unique holistic approach to running, helping her runners think beyond running to realize their running dreams. Click here to find out how to work with Laurie in one-on-one online coaching.

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