Even though acetaminophen and NSAIDs can be bought over the counter, are they safe for me?

Over the counter pain medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil), and naproxen (Aleve).

When there is physical trauma, I usually advise patients NOT to take medications which can mask symptoms or interfere with healing.

Pain signals that damage has occurred and is the body’s way of saying “STOP!” Pain gives a clear message what type of movement/activity is okay and what is not. Avoiding pain allows the area to rest and heal.

Using over the counter pain medications can allow one to keep using an injured area and cause more damage which will slow and/or prevent healing.

Furthermore, NSAID’s (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) reduce inflammation, which slows healing. Inflammation brings blood and other healing factors to the injured area which are necessary for the body to mend. The area swells because healing factors are filling it.

We tend to want to heal faster than Mother Nature allows; and we can’t. We can help Mother Nature along by getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of fresh vegetables, and moving gently as the body permits. And acupuncture helps the body use its resources more efficiently to promote healing.

Other Concerns About Over the Counter Pain Killers

Recent research indicates that ibuprofen taken before a strenuous workout not only does not prevent muscle soreness, it may damage the GI tract.

Do not combine multiple pain medications without the guidance of both your doctor and your pharmacist. Be aware that acetylsalicylic acid or salicylate is aspirin (these ingredients are in Alka-Seltzer, Pepto-Bismol, and other over the counter medications). Check the labels of all over the counter medications.

When your head throbs, your joints ache, or you have menstrual cramps, you might reach for some type of over the counter pain relief. For most healthy adults an occasional acetaminophen, ibuprofen , or naproxen won’t be a problem.

Yet, there are risks associated with each of these medications. (See next week’s newsletter.) Below are some alternatives to try before you reach for a pill.

Try one of these therapies to help with pain: