I recently came across an advertisement in a magazine that caught my attention. The ad depicts a ballerina with her leg stretched high up on a bar, and in bold yellow print in the center of the page is the question: “WHAT PULLED HAMMY?” Wedged in-between the base of the letters ‘H’ and ‘A’ of the word ‘Hammy’ is a larger than life Advil pill aimed at answering this rhetorical question. At the bottom of the page is the statement: “Advil makes pain a distant memory.” The underlying message of the ad is obviously pointing to the idea that if I take an Advil, it will stop the pulled hammy from causing me pain. The pain will be a thing of the past. And since I don’t feel pain, why do I need to worry about it anymore. But pain isn’t synonymous with disease. Or the cause of a disease. Pain isn’t an abnormal function.
I have some follow up questions to this idea: How does Advil make “pain a distant memory?” Will it cure the pulled hammy? And since I don’t feel pain, does that mean I can’t injure it anymore or do further damage to the pulled hammy? Was my body lacking something found in the Advil that will help me? Also- What is a pulled hammy?
Let’s start by answering the last question first. A ‘pulled hammy’ is a strain of one or more of the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles are a group of muscles located on the back aspect of the upper leg, or thigh region. A strain over-stretches or tears at the muscle tissue. Strains usually happen when a muscle is fatigued, overused, or improperly used. There are different degrees of strains, ranging from mild, moderate, to severe. A mild to moderate strain will usually take 3 to 6 weeks to heal, while a severe strain can take 3 to 6 months to heal. A strain is an injury to the muscle tissue that is more than just post-exercise muscle soreness. Muscle soreness usually involves pain but allows the muscle to move throughout its normal range of motion. The pain associated with a strain will usually be more severe and prevent normal complete range of motion of the muscle.
When a strain occurs to the muscle, your body will trigger a natural, healthy acute inflammatory response to initiate the healing process. Acute inflammation is the body’s normal protective response to injury and is generally a short-term, self-limiting condition. The inflammatory response will usually involve pain. Pain is the body’s main signal to let you know that something went or is going wrong internally. Pain is like a smoke detector in your home. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and when there is fire, there is a call for concern. That is what pain is designed to do, alert you to a potential problem. The inflammatory response sets off a chain of events that will direct resources to the injured tissue to start the repair and healing processes.
The main chemical component in Advil is Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is classified as an anti-inflammatory drug. Ibuprofen is also found in similar drugs like Motrin and Midol. Ibuprofen aims to reduce the normal production of hormones that signal the pain response. Sticking with the smoke detector analogy, Advil is like taking the batteries out of the smoke detector or to a lesser extent, muffling the alarm so you don’t have to hear it. Does reducing the alarm stop the smoke and potentially the fire? Of course not. The Advil in no way heals or cures the pulled hammy. All Advil attempts to do is numb the pain signal to the brain that tells you that you have a pulled hamstring. All it aims to do, is reduce the normal production of hormones. Normal hormone production though is a benchmark of healthy function. So if we reduce the normal function, we are now in the realm of abnormal function. Which is not health, but sickness. The Advil has now turned a normal healthy function, into an abnormal sick function. Besides reducing normal hormone function, long term or high dose effects of Ibuprofen on the body have been linked to increased risk of fatal heart attack or stroke. It also causes stomach or intestinal bleeding.
The pain signals to the brain have now been numbed. This not only numbs signals from the pulled hamstring, but numbs signals throughout the entire body. The brain can’t fully communicate with the body. This communication breakdown prevents the brain from letting the body know when it might be over-doing a movement that could further cause damage to an already injured tissue or traumatize a healthy working tissue. Let me use a similar injury to the pulled hammy to expand on this. Let’s say you severely sprain your ankle. When you sprain your ankle, normal walking becomes almost impossible to do. Putting a certain amount of weight on that ankle, or placing it in certain range of motion positions, will send pain signals to your brain. And that is for a good reason. The ankle has been injured and so those pain signals fire off to let you know that trying to put a certain amount of weight or motion to that joint will only further damage the area. What if you take an Advil to numb the pain? With the pain signals dampened, you begin to put more and more weight and motion into the joint then what would be allowed with the pain signals present. The pain signals are gone, but the injured tissues remain. And with those pain signals dampened or gone that helped prevent further injury, further damage to the already weakened ankle can be caused. What was thought to help the sprained ankle has now hurt the sprained ankle and will require more time and effort upon your body to heal it. Taking an Advil for a pulled hammy is the same premise as the sprained ankle. The Advil has made the pain “a distant memory” only to the educated conscious mind, not to the innate conscious body that is trying to tell your brain that you shouldn’t put that much strain or motion on the hamstring muscles right now; you are only further damaging the area and making it harder for it to heal.
Healing takes time, but in our “time is money” culture, we sacrifice our health. Our health has value beyond dollars and cents and is one of the few treasures we carry with us throughout our life. It is important for us to listen to and work with our body when all possible so we can better understand its functionality. A better understanding of our function will result in a greater expression of our function. This will result in a greater expression of life. And a greater expression of life is a memory that will stick will our past, present, and future.