Posted by: Joe English | June 5, 2007

Training: Can I take Ibuprofen while I’m running?

I’ve been asked many times whether it is safe to take Ibuprofen and other NSAID pain relievers while running. Normally this isn’t a question that I would answer, because I’m not a doctor. But I heard several runners say after the Rock N Roll Marathon that they had “taken some Ibuprofren at mile XX and then their XX felt better.” So I want to address this question at a high-level with some warnings about taking pain killers while running.

I’ll start by re-iterating two things: 1) if you have pain so significant that you can’t run without pain relievers, then you have a problem that needs to be treated by a physician and 2) talk to your doctor before taking any pain medications.

To answer the question directly, no you should not take Ibuprofen or other NSAID pain relievers while running. There are two reasons for this: one has to do with stomach problems and the other has to do with the kidneys.

Stomach issues can be serious, ranging from stomach upset to bleeding. You should always take pain relievers with food. During a long run or a race, the combined lack of food that you’ll likely be eating and the stress on your gastrointenstinal tract will make these problems even more serious.

In terms of kidney problems, NSAID drugs are processed out of the system by your kidneys. Your kidneys are already working overtime during a long run or race and when you are dehydrated they are under even more stress. Adding these drugs to the load on your kidneys can cause kidney damage.

So again, you should not be popping Ibuprofen or other NSAID drugs while running. Here are a couple of things to do instead:
– See a doctor to treat the underlying injury, rather than running through pain.
– Ice the painful area before and after running. Ice for 10-15 minutes at a time, but not longer more.
– Talk to your doctor about a topical pain reliever that will not impact the stomach or kidneys.

Dealing with injuries is tough, both mentally and physically. Make sure that you always put your long-term health and longevity goals ahead of short term goals. You may need to take some time off to rehabilitate an injury, but in the long run, this may be the smart choice to avoid doing permanent damage that stops you running altogether.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
Running Advice and News



  1. Joe,
    You are absolutely right on. Runners should not take any NSAIDS for the reasons you stated and another – remember these are used as antipyretics – they reduce fever. Therefore, they also affect our temperature control system! You do not want to do that while racing! Furthermore, there is no documentation that supports their use as an ergogenic aid – that is, a performance enhancing substance.

  2. Thanks so much for this post; I’m running my first marathon tomorrow and was considering popping some Ibuprofen around mile 13 to help prevent knee pain (I have a torn lateral miniscus and have had tendon/ligament issues that I’ve seen an ortho for). I didn’t even think about kidney issues and dehydration; I’ll be sure to wait until after the race, during the post-race buffet to take anything!

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