Experiencing a headache? Doubled over because of menstrual cramps? To alleviate the pain, many students skip visiting the school nurse or calling parents for advice. Instead they simply ask around the cafeteria and, sooner or later, someone will come to the rescue and pull out a bottle of ibuprofen from their bag.
It’s not uncommon to see students taking over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, Advil, or Tylenol. Today’s teens are far too busy with school, clubs and sports to let a sore knee or brief headache slow them down.
Like many student athletes, sophomore Emma Snyder suffers from shin splints – a soreness along the inner edge of the shinbone commonly caused by excessive running.
“I have really bad shin splints and the pain is so bad that I can’t run unless I have the ibuprofen or the Advil,” Snyder said. “I used to cry before every practice but once I started taking Advil, the pain went away.”
Shin splints occur when muscles and tendons in the leg pull on the tibia bone, causing a great deal of discomfort. Pain can be relieved by taking a break from running, icing the affected area, or taking pain killers to lessen the discomfort.
Snyder admits to taking 800 milligrams of ibuprofen every day before track practice in order to combat her ever-worsening shin splints. The recommended dosage for over the counter ibuprofen is 400 to 600 milligrams every four to six hours and 800 milligrams of ibuprofen is only recommended for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Erica Casares, a junior track athlete, also takes different over-the-counter painkillers in order to combat cramps while she is running.
“It [ibuprofen] helps my cramps go away so they will not affect my race as much and sometimes I’ll just take it before I get cramps in order to prevent them,” Casares said.
Pain medicine has become increasingly popular throughout sports teams as it is a fast and effective way of dealing with pain without having to stop activity altogether.
“Whenever I have any type of muscle ache, my coaches tell me to take ibuprofen an hour before practice,” Casares said.
Athletes like Snyder and Casares often take ibuprofen or Advil prior to practice in attempt to combat inevitable pain that comes with strenuous exercise, but 2012 studies conducted by the Orbis Medical Center in the Netherlands sheds light on the adverse affects that over the counter pain killers yield on athletes’ health.
Strenuous exercise—such as running—temporarily stops blood flow to certain parts of the intestines, resulting in slight intestinal trauma and gastrointestinal leakage. In a matter of hours, though, researcher Dr. Kim van Wijck observed that the intestines are able to recover and function normally.
Athletes who take over the counter pain killers prior to exercise, though, can face serious health consequences; a well-known side effect of ibuprofen and Advil is stomach damage.
In Wijck’s experiment, some cyclists would take 400 milligrams of ibuprofen before riding stationary bikes for an hour. Blood work showed that those who took ibuprofen before riding the bike had more intestinal leakage for several hours after exercising than those who did not take any over the counter pain killers.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes a “stomach bleeding warning” on ibuprofen labels, explaining that a consumer has a higher chance of suffering from stomach problems if ibuprofen is taken “more or for a longer time than directed.”
Additionally, drug labels of ibuprofen and Advil advise that “the smallest effective dose should be used,” a recommendation that students, especially student athletes, seem to disregard.