When it comes to muscle pain, pass on the pills


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Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you’re always popping ibuprofen before, during and/or after your workout, you’re not helping your body. It’s better to turn to a natural remedy that is less taxing on your muscles and organs.

Ibuprofen, such as Advil and Motrin, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, that reduces hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body. Many of us tend to mindlessly pop these babies like candy whenever we feel the slightest bit of pain. It’s even common for athletes and your average fitness-Joes to pop an ibuprofen before and after competing and/or working out as a preventive measure. Don’t do it!

When and why you should avoid the Advil
According to a New York Times blog entry, during a study looking at the stresses put on the body from a 100-mile endurance run, David Nieman — physiologist and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus — uncovered something else: Runners who had popped these pills before and during the race “displayed significantly more inflammation … afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories.”

Also, ibuprofen users “showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.”

So when is it OK to pop ibuprofen? According to Stuart Warden, an assistant professor and director of physical therapy research at Indiana University, in the NYT blog entry, the most justifiable time to take ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers is when you have inflammation and pain from an acute injury. So if you just sprained your ankle or pulled a muscle, go ahead and reach for that bottle. (Be sure to take the recommended dosage on the bottle, fiend!)

Nature’s pain relievers
So what should you use to ease your muscle pain and relieve inflammation? Try going the natural route.

Arnica is a popular herb used to treat muscle aches, reduce inflammation and even heal wounds. Be sure to apply to the skin right where it hurts — arnica is an external analgesic, which means it’s not for ingesting! Other herbs like black cohosh, chamomile and mint (applied to the skin) decrease pain and inflammation.

Soak in an Epsom salt bath for 15 minutes and you’ll be increasing magnesium sulfate levels in your body. Magnesium is your body’s natural defender against inflammation, and a bath is always soothing. Mix the two together and you’re set.

Massage is a wonderful drug-free way to ease muscle pain and inflammation. What you massage with can help even more. Try cayenne pepper, which is a warming herb, and it will increase circulation when used in a balm — mix olive oil and pepper, and massage into problem area. Increasing circulation helps in the removal of substances, such as lactic acid, that are produced by overworked muscles.

Check out LocalHarvest.org for a number of herbal remedies in the form of balms, teas and sprays.

Tell us: What natural remedy do you use when easing achy muscles?