While over the counter painkillers like paracetamol, aspirin and NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs )like ibuprofen are effective for relieving the short-term pain of conditions like headaches, migraine, period pains or toothache, taking these painkillers frequently could put you at risk of longer term ill health.
According to a position statement released by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK, one in fifty people suffer from headaches due to overuse of painkillers – they classify overuse as taking any pain killers on fifteen or more days each month. The experts suggest that instead of reducing pain, this frequent use of pain killers is actually causing increased pain.
In the recommended doses, most painkillers have few side effects. However, when used in the long-term, specific pain killers such as the NSAID group (which includes Ibuprofen) may lead to indigestion, bleeding from the gut, kidney problems, high blood pressure, fluid retention, and slight increased risk of heart attack and stroke. They may also affect blood clotting and can worsen asthma in asthma sufferers.
If you find you need to take pain killers for longer than three days, it’s advised you speak to your doctor or pharmacist as another treatment is probably more effective.
Combating pain naturally
Painkillers may be the seemingly easiest and most convenient option when it comes to treating pain, but there are many alternatives that may have more beneficial effects over the long term.
For headaches, staying hydrated is key. Avoiding too many stimulants like caffeine, sugary foods and alcohol is also essential. Acupuncture may not sound convincing but it’s been scientifically proven to help reduce not only acute migraines, but also chronic tension headaches.
For menstrual pains, applying gentle heat to the area or taking a warm bath can help and gentle exercise helps by increasing natural pain-relieving substances called endorphins.
Increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet will also help to reduce the inflammation at the root of the pain. The best anti-inflammatory foods are nuts and seeds, oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring), olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocadoes, garlic, herbs and spices (like ginger and turmeric) and plenty of antioxidant rich vegetables and fruits.
Practising yoga may seem like the last thing you fancy when you have back pain, but a study in the Spine Journal found that after two months of twice weekly practice, people suffering from lower back pain reported a 42% reduction of pain.
So the next time you think about popping that pill, ask yourself if it’s the best method of pain control for you in the short AND the long term.
Written by Ruth Tongue