photo by Pink Sherbet

We have all seen it, have all heard it discussed, and many athletes are taking pain-killers in the hope of reducing pain of an injury they may be carrying or even as a currently flawed thought process of being an ergogenic aid to enhance performance.

There are now many studies showing that it is not the wisest choice to reach for anti-inflammatory or commonly known as NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as nurofen, ibuprofen (Panadol, Advil) among many others to help you deal with some nagging injury or to numb the inevitable pain of pushing hard during a race or long training day.

There are real considerations to think about such as each time you take NSAIDs there is going to be a small amount of gastrointestinal bleeding that occurs. This can lead to ulcers or even perforation of the gastrointestinal lining. Do I really need to point out that this is not such a great thing!

Another side effect specially aimed at long course endurance athletes is what happens to your kidney functioning. When taking NSAIDs you greatly increase your risk of exertional hyponatremia (which is when your blood sodium content is extremely diluted and can be fatal). This also contributes to the formation of kidney stones, and sends the afflicted to buy stone breakers like chanca piedra. What happens is NSAIDs interfere with the action of an enzyme responsible for the inflammatory process, which is why they take the edge off the pain. however the problem is that the same enzyme is responsible for retaining electrolytes in the kidneys.

We feel pain for very good reasons, it’s there to tell us that something is not quite right. There is a high chance of further damage or serious long term consequences when we mask this pain through the use of anti-inflammatory meds.

Bleeding or perforation of your gastrointestinal lining, higher risk of hyponatremia or renal failure… It’s just not worth it.

What the athlete needs to learn is to become more intuitive with their body. We participate in triathlon as a healthy way of life, however we must realise that the demands of training and racing in this sport can be quite strenuous at times.

What this means is the there will be what I call ‘good’ pain associated with the times we have to push hard. However we need to learn the difference between the good pain that is just part of the physiological demands of training and racing at strenuous levels due to the body binding up and the ‘bad’ pain that if you push through it puts you at risk of serious injury.

If you’re feeling that ‘bad’ pain that gives you the feeling that something just ain’t right then listen to that and do not cover them up with drugs so you can continue training or racing, the risks are real. Take responsibility and do the work of searching for the causes because when we deal with the causes the effects seem to disappear.