As physios we quite often get asked this question. The short answer is – it depends on the type of injury.
As a general rule I would say if you have JUST strained a muscle or a joint, such as the ankle or knee, and it is sore and swollen DON’T take anti-inflammatory medication. You will get more benefit from Paracetamol for the pain and ice over the injured area.
Recent research has shown that anti inflammatory medication may help ease the swelling and pain at the time BUT long term they can be detrimental to the health of the muscle or ligament tissue. This is because it stops the bodies natural inflammatory cells bombarding the area, which is a normal response to start the healing process.
On the other hand, sudden onset of back pain, especially with referred pain into the arm or leg, would benefit from anti inflammatory medication early on. This helps to reduce the effects of an inflamed disc which could be compromising a nerve. As a result you would be able to move better which is the first stage of treating the problem.
For something more severe such as a bone fracture you would probably get the most relief from ice, paracetamol and either immobilising the area or not weight bearing through it, as the pain is not a result of inflammation in the area!
I would also like to dispel the idea that you should resist taking any pain medication so you can feel whether or not the activity you’re doing is damaging an injury further. With many injuries it is better to keep moving rather than rest, however, pain makes movement very difficult. For this reason taking some pain relief can help you get better more quickly because you don’t lose your mobility.
It is a fine line between not doing enough and doing too much. If you are not sure what to do for your injury, come and see one of the Physiotherapists at our Sydney CBD Clinic, Bend + Mend.