Pain Pills
Why Drugs Are Not the Answer to Address Chronic Pain and Other Chronic Issues (Part 2 of 4)
Written by Michele Vieux

I find it interesting that we care so much about what’s going into our bodies that our food has to be organic, hormone free, and free range but we don’t pay as close of attention as to what chemicals, especially medications, we are putting into it. It’s a magic pill society and lots of people still trust their doctors’ blind recommendations for new ones to pop without aforethought to possible consequences.

If you read my latest post, Top Three (or Four) causes of Tendonitis, you would know that number four is medications – because I have a personal vendetta against them. I’ve always played hard and toughed it out. There were many injuries growing up. I also always struggled with allergies and sinus issues. When I was young, I frequently had ear infections. I firmly believe that my frequent, lifetime use of antibiotics, allergy medicine, and NSAIDs to “treat” these issues has contributed to my current deteriorated state. By deteriorated, I mean frequently injured (more often than not) and usually in some amount of pain from tendonitis, arthritis, or injury. I am 35 years old and otherwise healthy. It explains my many otherwise unexplainable injuries, including my recent hip and wrist problems.

I used the word “treat” loosely and with quotes in the paragraph above because if you look at most medications, both prescription and OTC, most of them deal with treating the symptoms, not the cause, and most have harmful or dangerous side effects that could be just as bad or worse than the original problem.

If you look at Ibuprofen, for example, which is used to “treat” pain, that pain is usually an underlying symptom of something else. So, when we pop pills, we’re usually just masking one of the symptoms and not addressing the root cause like your injury or overuse tendonitis, or the pinched nerve in your shoulder, so it never actually gets better.

Kelly Starrett, DPT, author of Becoming a Supple Leopard and creator of MobilityWOD, gives a pretty good explanation of how it all works and why you should reconsider reaching for that bottle. “Ibuprofen is an NSAID (Non-Steroidal-Anti-Inflammatory-Drug) which is believed to work through the inhibition of cyclooxygenase (COX), thus inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. Prostaglandins are like hormones in that they act as chemical messengers, but do not move to other sites, but work right within the cells where they are synthesized. Prostaglandins are vital mediators of the inflammatory cascade. The swelling and subsequent prostaglandin production signals all of the important cells circulating in your body to come and fix/reinforce the challenged tissues. That’s right, all that soreness you feel after Fran is the resultant swelling from all the micro-damage you’ve done to your muscles. It’s this very inflammatory response that is responsible for making you a BETTER ATHLETE. The worst thing you can do is to go through a horrible workout like Fran and then not reap the resultant gains from the training stimulus.”

Besides keeping you from being a better athlete, NSAIDs, anti-inflammatory, and over the counter pain medications have been linked to not only G.I. and cardiovascular problems  – which many of us already know about – but also bone and tendon weakening – something many may not know. So, when you take NSAIDs for tendonitis or other chronic pain, which means you’re taking multiple pills per day for long periods of time, you are actually weakening the exact thing you are trying to fix! NSAIDs – Ibuprofen, Advil, etc. – have been shown to delay and hamper the healing in all the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Anti-inflammatories can delay healing and delay it significantly, even in muscles with their tremendous blood supply (Greene, J. Cost-conscious prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for adults with arthritis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 152:1995-2002).

Side effects like these aren’t unique to NSAIDs. Many other common drugs have been linked to similar side effects. It was Flonase that got me started into this research since I use(d) it for spurts throughout the year for seasonal allergies. Flonase, or Fluticasone, is a nasal allergy spray and has been linked to tendonitis. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research yet into this topic so most of the findings are anecdotal but a number of doctors I spoke with – two in particular, Dr. Darryl Bates, MD, Thrive Wellness and Robert Siek, PharmD, Triton Nutrition – sited noticing soft tissue injuries and issues in patients who used Flonase.

Fluroquinolones, a family of antibiotics that include drugs like Cipro and Levaquin, have been linked to tendon weakening and tendonitis, even so severe as to cause rupture, particularly of the achilles tendon. Since 2008, the FDA has told companies that the drugs must now carry “black box” warnings alerting doctors and patients that the drugs can increase risk of tendinitis and tendon rupture in some patients. A “black box” warning is the FDA’s sternest warning!

Statins, used to treat high cholesterol, have been linked to tendonitis, muscle soreness and depletion of CoQ10 in the heart. See my blog post, Top 7 Supplements for Athletes, to learn more about the importance of CoQ10. Although side effects are usually mild, more severe side effects, especially musculoskeletal complications, have been reported. Tendon impairment has been reported anecdotally but has not been included in large-scale studies until recently. According to the MayoClinic.com, side effects from statin use include liver failure, digestive problems, elevated blood sugar and Type 2 Diabetes, neurological problems and muscle pain and damage – the most common statin side effect. This pain is often described as a soreness, tiredness or weakness in the muscles. The pain can be a mild discomfort, or it can be severe enough to make daily activities difficult. Very rarely, statins can cause life-threatening muscle damage called rhabdomyolysis – Rhabdo! Rhabdomyolysis can cause severe muscle pain, liver damage, kidney failure and death.

You may have noticed that it seems not all people have problems when taking these drugs. Why just some people? Both the belief of myself and Dr. Bates is that probably genetics plays an important role. That’s what determines where you’re more prone to get auto-immune response and inflammation when you’re not on track with something – diet, lifestyle, stress levels, medications, etc. Just like how some people suffer from arthritis and some from IBS, others present in the form of tendinitis and other joint pain. And just because you don’t see or feel damaging side effects doesn’t mean bad things aren’t happening inside your body in response to chemicals (drugs and medications) you’re putting in it.

So am I suggesting you stop taking all of your medications? That’s what I did. I can’t tell you to do it or not but I highly suggest you carefully look into any medications you may be taking and potential side effects and reactions that may occur. Weigh the cost vs. benefits of each one. Is it something you can live without? If not, what are some alternatives? Alternatives to medications and surgeries for chronic pain is what will be discussed in the two final posts in this series.

  • Jonathan Miller

    Officially mindblown about NSAID coming from the military Vitamin M and ibuprofen are handed out like literal candy on Halloween! Great post Michelle. Oh rock chalk btw!