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Treating pain: Balancing health risks with suffering

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Athletes suffering from chronic back pain or recovering from surgery often take ibuprofen to help them perform, but some experts think this might be a poor strategy, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Pain is a collective experience in sports such as golf that require repetitive back movement and place a lot of stress on the spine itself during powerful swings.

Some back surgeons and pain experts recommend the practice of taking these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) all day if needed. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in 2015, warned about potential health concerns. Heart attack, stroke, kidney, and gastrointestinal issues have all been commonly reported when using this kind of medication which includes ibuprofen and aspirin, among others.

Other research, conducted at Appalachian State University, found that NSAIDs were not able to produce any noticeable pain relief for athletes running ultramarathons, suggesting that there may not be a performance increase worth the risks. In cyclists, bananas were able to produce pain relief similar to ibuprofen through their natural metabolites, with the added benefit of providing energy and nutrients.

At least one high-profile athlete, Tiger Woods, feels the risk is worth it. He is currently following his surgeon’s advice to take the drugs throughout his play on the course.

After four back surgeries, his physical condition is a liability to his career. For him, the drugs are safer than opioids, and the potential health risks pale in comparison to having his golf career shortened by back pain.

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