Don't Take Advil for Sore Muscles

Advil, aspirin, and other common pain relievers inhibit muscle growth. Here’s what to do instead.

Pain Killer, Growth Killer?

Anybody who works out hard is probably, from time to time, tempted to reach in the medicine cabinet and pull out some pharmaceutical pain relief. While these drugs–known collectively as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)–will definitely prevent or alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS), they’ll also inhibit muscle growth.

They do this because they interfere with a couple of enzymes known as COX 1 and COX 2, which can negatively influence muscle protein synthesis, muscle protein metabolism, and other cellular processes crucial to muscle-growth adaptations to exercise.

What’s My Alternative?

The compound known as curcumin is a potent pain reliever and it doesn’t have any inhibitory effects on muscle growth. It turns out that curcumin is a poor inhibitor of COX 1 and 2, even though studies have shown 400 mg. of the substance to be as powerful as 1,000 mg. of acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Curcumin works through entirely different chemical pathways than NSAIDS. The compound inhibits inflammation and pain by inhibiting a variety of molecules, including phospholipase, lipooxygenase, leukotrienes, thromboxane, prostaglandins, monocyte chemoattractant protein, interferon-inducible protein, tumor necrosis factor, and interleukin-12, among others.

Regardless of its inhibitory effect on all these molecules, it doesn’t interfere with muscle growth.

Does Curcumin Help With Other Types of Pain?

While curcumin is particularly effective in alleviating DOMS, it’s also great for arthritic pain and post-operative pain, and unlike NSAIDS, you can use large doses for long periods of time.

One such study involving 25 human subjects found that 8,000 mg. of curcumin given daily over three months produced no toxicity. Of course, you don’t need anywhere near that amount to combat pain. The standard dosage is about 500 mg.

It takes about two hours to kick in, reaches maximum strength in 4 hours, and it keeps working for up to about 12 hours.