Pain Medication 101: What to Take and When

NOTE: The information below is not a substitute for the expertise and judgement of healthcare professionals. The information is not intended to cover possible uses, directions, precautions, drug interactions or adverse effects, nor should it be construed to indicate that use of a particular drug is safe, appropriate or effective for you or anyone else. A healthcare professional should be consulted before taking any drug, changing any diet or discontinuing any course of treatment.

Pill Primer

Did you wake up with a stiff neck before your morning run? Fighting off a headache post-workout? It's not uncommon for runners to contend with aches and injuries, but before you raid your medicine cabinet to help cope with the pain, it's important to know which pill to choose.

Medical care providers recommend painkillers for short-term treatment only, unless otherwise directed by your doctor. If you're looking to dull the pain of minor aches and injuries, here is what you need to know before you reach for your medicine shelf.

NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen)

When to take it: Post-workout for strained muscles, a sprained ankle, plantar fasciitis or runner's knee.

Research indicates that taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) within the first two to three days may actually help with the healing process of minor injuries. This is because NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are responsible for inflammation.

Pair the NSAIDs with proper stretching or breaks from running for the best treatment plans.

After a few days, you'll want to back off the NSAIDs and let your body heal through natural remedies, e.g., stretching or hot/cold therapy.

It's important to note that other studies have shown that too much NSAIDs use actually delay healing, so you will want to monitor your intake.


  • NSAIDs, while blocking prostaglandins, can also decrease blood flow to your kidneys.
  • It's very important to stay hydrated while taking NSAIDs.
  • NSAIDS can also produce an increase in blood pressure, which—when paired with the rise in blood pressure from working out—can cause serious heart problems, especially if you already have high blood pressure. Naproxen is advised for use for people with a history of heart disease and problems.
  • NSAIDs block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which protects the stomach lining from acids. NSAID use can cause digestive problems because of this, so you don't want to take them on race day.
  • Do not take naproxen in combination with ibuprofen.

More: 5 Ways to Deal with Bathroom Issues on the Run

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