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Both elite athletes and non-elite individuals who are routinely physically active tend to use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage muscle pain and inflammation. There can be a tendency to take these drugs in excess, especially since they are often viewed as safe since they are not available by prescription.
A Swedish study examined the effect of taking 1,200 mg of ibuprofen daily for eight weeks compared with aspirin use (75 mg daily) in 31 active adults, men and women, aged 18 to 35 years. Muscle biopsy and magnetic resonance imaging were used to determine the amount of growth in quad muscles. During the study, all of the participants performed leg workouts two to three times per week.
The authors determined that those who took aspirin showed twice as much growth in their quad muscles as those who took 1,200 mg of ibuprofen.
More specifically, the authors found that while high doses of ibuprofen lowered some markers for inflammation, their findings also indicate that the inflammatory process, when it is combined with strengthening exercises, is required for muscle growth to occur, according to Tommy Lundberg, the study’s lead author and a researchers at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Laboratory Medicine.
The results of this study are important because many people use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to manage muscle pain but may not be aware these medications may affect their muscle growth. At least for young or middle-age men, choosing a recovery day rather than taking ibuprofen may be the better choice. According to Lundberg, although he and his team looked at ibuprofen and aspirin, “we believe that high doses of all types of OTC NSAIDs (over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have similar effects.”
For now, researchers are not sure whether older adults will respond similarly, because anti-inflammatory drugs can protect individuals from losing muscle mass as they age. This is an area for further study.
Karolinska Institutet. Anti-inflammatory drugs can inhibit muscle growth. 2017 Aug 31. Press release