Over the Counter Medications: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We all generally accept that we will all have to face pain in our lives at some time or another. We twist an ankle, maybe lift something we shouldn’t have, miss a step or trip and fall and there it is. Pain. And if you are generally healthy or younger you bounce back and heal quickly. However, if your injury is more severe, or your pain came from no particular injury or event, what do you do?

Many go to the medicine cabinet for an anti-inflammatory (NSAID like Motrin, Advil or Aleve) or other pain relievers like Acetaminophen (Tylenol). And after 30 minutes to an hour later the symptoms are better….for 4 to 12 hours. Then the next dose is due. Usually a few days to a few weeks of this and you get better. For those who don’t, can we continue these medicines indefinitely without some cost?

We have heard many times that pain is a “sign that something is wrong”, and by taking medication we are merely ‘masking’ the pain. That bit of fools gold is marketed beautifully by the actor portraying someone with knee pain playing basketball only because of their particular brand of over the counter remedy. So, since we are feeling better, we should resume our normal activity, right? I’ll tell you that if you have pain with no particular injury, nearly 80% of these conditions are related to muscle imbalances, and those that had a specific injury have a muscle imbalance that impairs your ability to heal that injury. The problem of taking the medications (masking the pain) is that you never addressed the underlying cause of the pain, or at least a major contributing factor in healing from the injury, the muscle imbalance. The other factor to consider is that if we are masking our body’s warning that something is wrong, we could potentially be causing ourselves more issues by putting excessive stress on the tissues that are involved in the problem.

Let me give you a simple analogy. Think of your body as a car. This car has several guages that let you know about the performance of the car. Let’s say the ‘check engine’ light is on indicating there is problem. Most people who don’t know much about cars consult a mechanic to take care of the problem. But let’s say that light is on, and it’s bugging you, and your simple fix is a black piece of electrical tape. The car still seems to run fine. You don’t see that warning anymore, but slowly there is more wear on the car, wear that could have been prevented. That to me is how I see the chronic use of these over the counter medications. However, this is far from the worst issue to concern yourself with the use of these medications.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, while generally considered safe, have toxicity problems. That means they are harmful to the body. Research as far back as the year 2000 finds, “On average 1 in 1,200 patients taking NSAIDs for at least 2 months will die from gastroduodenal complications who would not have died had they not taken NSAIDs.”1 So the ad goes out that Acetaminophen is a safer alternative, but it is considered a safe dosage at <2000mg/day.2 So 500mg Acetaminophen would only be safe with 1 every 6 hours, but when people are in pain, and are influenced to believe that it is safe, many often take more.
A more holistic approach to these pain issues is needed, and likely the most effective. To have an expert identify, and correct muscle imbalances, and advise in any lifestyle changes can speed the body’s own natural healing powers. Powerful, state of the art technology, like LASER to eliminate pain, reduce inflammation, and speed tissue healing is available, and physical therapists are the professionals that can do it.
Put the medication down and pick up the phone.

1. Tramer, et al. Pain. 2000; 91: 401-402. 2. Garcia, Rodriguez, et al. Arthritis Res. 2001;3[2]:98-101.
Trevor Field is a physical therapist in Murrieta, California, specializing in treatment of adolescent athletes, and has developed programs for ACL injury prevention, and sports performance enhancement. To learn more, go to www.indefreept.com

 

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