Pain Relief for Athletes: What Works Best?

I seem to be experiencing typical runners’ knee pain at a very convenient time—in terms of blogging about it, at least. Maybe it’s just the season for outdoor running and overuse injuries, or maybe it’s all the headlines about pain relief lately, but everyone seems to be talking about what’s safe, what works, and what’s best.


I seem to be experiencing typical runners knee pain at a very convenient time—in terms of blogging about it, at least. (Not so convenient is the fact that my first triathlon is next Sunday.) Maybe it's just the season for outdoor running and overuse injuries, or maybe its all the headlines about pain relief lately, but everyone seems to be talking about whats safe, what works, and whats best.

Painkillers: Are they safe?
First a federal advisory committee recommended that the government lower the daily recommended dosage of acetaminophen, based on the idea that it is relatively easy to overdose on the drug, and that it's been linked to liver damage. Acetaminophen is in Tylenol, of course, but it's also in plenty of other multipurpose medications.


That information led runners and other athletes—many of us who pop pills often to combat achy joints and muscles—to wonder exactly what we should be taking; after all, acetaminophen is supposed to be safer and gentler on the stomach than other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin. Luckily, my friends at Thats Fit (who have a great triathlon training series going on, by the way) tackled this tough question just when I needed answers.

They interviewed Robert Sallis, MD, the codirector of Sports Medicine Fellowship at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, who assured them that Tylenol is still likely the safest choice for most people, and that athletes who take less than 2,000 milligrams a day (about six regular-strength tablets) shouldn't worry. Of course, persistent pain is likely a sign of tissue damage, he added, so it's best to get checked out if you find you're turning to pills on a regular basis.


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Amanda MacMillan
Last Updated: July 15, 2009

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