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Pain Reliever Might Slow Healing from a Bone Fracture

It seems counterintuitive, but by suppressing inflammation, NSAIDs like ibuprofen could slow healing from a bone fracture.
Pain Reliever Might Slow Healing from a Bone Fracture
A child with broken left arm on a sling

The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” may have more than a kernel of truth for over-the-counter drugs. Actually, the attitude most Americans hold toward these familiar nonprescription brands might be better described as ignorance or inattention than actual contempt.

Too often we don’t know about all of the potential effects of a medication that we can buy off the shelf.  Even many doctors who are well aware of the potential for popular NSAID pain relievers to cause intestinal injury or increase the risk for cardiovascular complications may not know that these drugs could slow healing from a bone fracture.

Q. I fell on the tennis court and broke my arm badly. I started taking big doses of ibuprofen (with my doctor’s approval) to control pain and reduce swelling.

When I went to see my chiropractor for a back adjustment, he admonished me not to take any NSAIDs. He said they interfere with bone healing. How is that possible?

A. We know it seems puzzling that the very medicine you are taking for pain could impair bone healing. Nevertheless, there is substantial animal research to suggest that NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac or indomethacin can slow the healing of certain fractures (Acta Orthopaedica, April, 2015; Current Opinion in Rheumatology, July, 2013).

It appears that inflammation plays an important role in recruiting stem cells to help heal fractures. Suppressing inflammation with an NSAID could be counterproductive.

Short-term use to ease discomfort seems relatively safe, but longer-term reliance on NSAIDs may affect your recovery. You probably don’t want to take anything that would slow healing from a bone fracture.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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