Anti-inflammatories: cures or suppressants?

Not sure if this is GQ or IMHO - it’s a technical question that probably has a definitive answer, but it relates to an actual situation.

Which is that a few weeks ago I gradually developed some sort of ongoing pain in my upper arm and shoulder. (Not the result of any sort of injury, and kind of gradually increasing in intensity.) Nothing major, but when it lasted a couple of weeks I went to an orthopedist. They took x-rays which showed nothing wrong and also tested my arm strength in different ways which also showed nothing wrong. So they said it’s some sort of inflammation, and that I should take Advil or Motrin for a few weeks to deal with it, and come back if it wasn’t better then.

My question is if the Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen) cures inflammation, or if it temporarily relieves it? Or, asked another way, is the ibuprofen supposed to temporarily relieve the inflammation (and ease the pain) while your body cures the inflammation, such that it makes no real difference long-term whether you do or don’t take the stuff, or is the ibuprofen supposed to cure the inflammation in a manner that wouldn’t happen at all if you didn’t take it?

Relevance of the question is suppose you are slack about taking the stuff, and the situation doesn’t improve in the couple of weeks. Is it now time to revisit the office and ask for a Plan B (possibly involving more tests or whatever), or does this simply mean that you’ve not taken the required treatment?

Could be either.

Inflammation can become self-reinforcing, in which case interrupting the inflammatory process can lead to a cure. Or it can be a symptom of something else in which case treating the inflammation might lead to the body being better able to take care of the underlying problem, or it might mask the problem, which will come back once you stop taking the medicine. OR with age sometimes inflammation becomes more common or becomes chronic for no reason we can diagnose, in which case there isn’t a cure so you treat the symptom as best you can going forward.

Your best option, IMO, is to follow the proposed treatment plan as closely as possible. When that is done either you’ll be better and stay that way, be better for awhile and it won’t stay that way (but at least you’ve gotten some relief), or you won’t be better and you’ll have to go back to the doctor and ask him/her where to go from here.

Sorry, no definitive answer. Sometimes reality is messy.

Not sure about the answer to your question but as far as slacking in taking it on the regular. I remember and he can correct me if I misremembered, our own Mercotan stated in a thread one time that just popping a couple pills every other day or so won’t make much difference as far as inflammation, you have to take it on a regular schedule over a lengthy period of time to really have the proper anti-inflammatory effect take hold.

Yes, I recall him saying that as well.

Fotheringay-Phipps, I had recurring pain in that area for years that, understandably perhaps, was always dismissed as muscle pain. However, it blew up into a severe problem and it turned out that a bulging cervical disc was pressing on a nerve. If the pain is tingly/burning and persists despite the treatment, you should ask for (or demand) an MRI to investigate the possibility.

I’ve wondered about this. Very short story since this is a tangent to the OP’s question:

In summer 2014, I thought I had gout. Just-short-of-severe pain at base of big toe without obvious injury. Did not go to doctor, but I did read up on gout online (I know, I know). I read that often anti-inflammatories are given for gout. Started Advil at regular intervals. The gout-like pain went away over the course of about 48 hours, and it has never returned.

I came into this thread to mention this; thanks for saying it first.

As for the OP, I suspect advil reduced pain while the body resolved the inflammation over time. To reduce inflammation significantly, advil needs to be taken in doses of 600 mg 4 x a day, for at least two weeks (or 800 3 x a day).

The anti-inflammatory properties of the NSAIDs (like ibuprofen, naproxen, indocin, etc) come into play when treating actual inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis.

As for gout, NSAIDs chiefly work to both reduce pain and reduce crystal formation by prostaglandin blockage. The body reduces the inflammation once the crystals dissolve.