A:This is still a hotly debated question for which research has yet to provide a definitive answer.
Several studies suggest that, yes, popping non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds for your pain might inhibit healing. And not just in muscles. NSAIDs may interfere with healing in bones and tendons as well. But for you, we’ll stick with the drug’s effect on muscles.
In a recent review of studies on the role of NSAIDs in muscle repair after injury, researchers stated that the drug’s potential to negatively influence repair outweighs any beneficial effects it might offer. It's thought that a group of muscle stem cells called satellite cells play an important role in muscle repair, and that NSAIDs may inhibit the proliferation of those cells in response to injury.
Studies have also shown that ibuprofen might interfere with your efforts to build muscle through resistance training. Researchers found that treating rats with 20mg of ibuprofen per kilogram of body weight for 14 days, (that would be about seven over-the-counter pills [200mg each] per day for a 150-pound person), limited the rats’ ability to build muscle by 50 percent. But that’s in rats, so the result may not directly correlate to humans. Also, that’s a ton of Advil, but it’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe a month-long course of NSAIDs like naproxen (Aleve) at 1,000mg per day for sports injuries like Achilles tendonitis.
Because of the possibility that NSAIDs might have negative consequences on long-term healing, in addition to their already-known side effects, which include potential intestinal damage, Swiss researchers said in 2010 that they do not recommend NSAIDs for muscle injuries, bone fractures (including stress fractures) or chronic tendinopathy. If you can’t take the pain, however, those researchers say to limit your use of NSAIDs to as little as possible for the shortest amount of time possible.
Also keep in mind that if you take Advil to dampen pain so you can continue exercising, you could aggravate your injury or make it worse. That’d be your fault, not Advil’s.
BOTTOM LINE: If you can live without it, maybe you should.