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Painkillers Before Exercise: Study Details continued...

Taking ibuprofen before exercise should be strongly discouraged, van Wijck says. She knows the practice is common. Some research shows up to 90% of athletes in soccer and triathlons use painkillers.

She only studied men but believes the findings would also apply to women.

What to do instead of popping an ibuprofen? A better choice would be acetaminophen, van Wijck says. "It works more or less like NSAIDs, but it is thought to cause a little less intestinal injury. But I would suggest no painkillers if not strictly necessary."

Instead, she says, try eating a small amount of food before or during workouts to maintain some gastrointestinal blood flow.

Ibuprofen Before Exercise: Second Opinion

"The findings are not a surprise to me at all," says Heather Gillespie, MD, MPH, a sports medicine doctor at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. She reviewed the findings.

The practice of taking a painkiller before endurance events or other strenuous exercise is very common, she says. Her patients talk about it often.

Gillespie, too, cautions her patients against the practice. "They're over-the-counter medicines," she tells them, "but they are not low risk."

"I think this [study] gives us more evidence," Gillespie says, that the drugs should be used prudently.

Besides potential gastrointestinal damage, there are other hazards, she says. Among them: If you take a painkiller before a strenuous workout, and then injure yourself, you may not know it. The painkiller may mask your symptoms.

The drug-facts label for ibuprofen, provided by the FDA, states that ibuprofen should be used to temporarily relieve minor aches and pains. It also warns that the drug may cause stomach bleeding, especially in adults 60 years or older.

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