When the researchers closely analyzed the muscle biopsies, they found that the high doses of ibuprofen reduced some markers for inflammation.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm randomly separated 31 healthy men and women aged 18 to 35 into two groups and had them take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). One group took a 1,200 milligram (mg) dose of ibuprofen every day for eight weeks. The second group took a 75 mg of aspirin for the same period.
During the time they were taking the pills, both groups did leg workouts, like knee extensions, two to three times a week. After, the researchers biopsied their muscles and measured their growth, strength, and anti-inflammatory markers.
Using MRI, they found that people who took the lower dose of aspirin experienced twice as much growth in their quad muscles as the group taking a high dose of ibuprofen.
So what's going on? When the researchers closely analyzed the muscle biopsies, they found that the high doses of ibuprofen reduced some markers for inflammation. In general, that's a good thing: Lower levels of inflammation are better for your overall health, since high levels are implicated in everything from heart disease to cancer.
But, this also leads the researchers to believe that the inflammatory process, when combined with strength training, is actually necessary for muscle growth, explains lead study author Tommy Lundberg, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Laboratory Medicine, in a press release.
The results are important for anyone looking to get bigger, since both active adults and elite-level athletes commonly use anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve muscle pain. “We chose to look at the effect of ibuprofen as it is the most well-studied anti-inflammatory drug on the market, but we believe that high doses of all types of OTC NSAIDs have similar effects,” Lundberg explains.
One caveat? The findings may not hold up in older people, since past research has found that anti-inflammatory drugs can protect you from losing muscle mass as you get older, the researchers say.
But for young or middle age guys, you may be better off using proper recovery to deal with your soreness instead of pills. Consider a recovery day, either through complete rest or deloading to give your body a break. It’s not only good for your muscles, but your bones, too.
If your muscle soreness is constant post-workout, even after you’ve tried other methods of recovery, it might be worth checking in with your doctor. It's possible that an underlying condition that has nothing to do with your workouts could be making your body ache.