When to take Anti-inflammatories

If you’ve picked up an injury then the first course of action is often to reach for nurofen or ibuprofen. These have become the ‘go to’ medications in times of pain, particularly ibuprofen and similar anti-inflammatories (AIs), but is that a good thing and can they actually do more damage?

To put this into context, you first need to look at what happens when you pick up and injury and how that fits into the healing process.

Inflammation is typically the first stage of healing and is recognisable by redness, swelling, heat, pain and a loss of function. All pretty nasty sounding stuff, but not necessarily something you want to try and stop.

These signs show that the body is starting to heal and it’s doing this by increasing the blood-flow at the site of injury, transporting key chemicals in the blood that are essential to the healing process.

There are chemicals involved in inflammation that attract “building cells” to the injury site. Following the initial inflammatory process these cells have a crucial role to play in repairing the damage, such as bruising or a muscle tear.

When should you take AIs?

For long-term inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or injuries that have been inflamed for a sustained period of time, AIs can play a role in managing the pain – but they shouldn’t be seen as a solution. So for example if you’re experiencing pain behind the kneecap, then AIs can help reduce pain while treatment takes effect. Then, as the pain starts to improve, the use of AIs can be reduced and eventually stopped completely.

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Which AIs to buy?

There are plenty of options with ibuprofen and nurofen being the most popular and, in our experience, there isn’t a massive difference between the two. Obviously it’s important to watch out for potential side-effects and impacts on other medication so we’d always recommend closely reading the packets before taking anything. There are also higher strength options available, some over the counter and others through prescription and these can be useful for serious injuries and pains.

Anti-inflammatories – what to know

  • Don’t take them at the time of the injury – if the pain is bad then take painkillers instead
  • Leave it a good few (ideally 4) days after the injury before taking AIs
  • AIs are not a solution to injuries – just a way of managing the pain and discomfort. So always find out what’s causing the problem and get this treated
  • Ask your physio and they’ll be able to advise on whether taking AIs will help and can determine what’s behind the problem in the first place

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