In a practice working with athletes of all levels—from professionals to weekend warriors—I get to hear many different strategies they have devised for their own health care. Fortunately, a lot of them will run these ideas by me so that I can either approve or revise them. One of the more common—and worst—is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID's) as preventative medicine. NSAID's include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium which are the active ingredients in the most commonly used over the counter options for pain. Countless patients over the years have told me of their plans to take NSAID's prior to competing/participating in an event “just in case” pain should develop during the event.
Inflammation is the body's primary step in tissue repair following injury. Injury can be a sprained ankle, a broken bone, or even micro-damage from overuse. NSAID's do not target specific tissue in a specific area based upon what is hurting the individual, they inhibit all inflammation. Taking them preventatively will limit the body's effectiveness in repairing the damage done to muscles and tissues during activity. This will slow recovery, and could lead to chronic pain in the future.
If you are concerned that you will not be able to perform an activity due to the pain that may arise, then perhaps it is time to use your better judgement and rest until the issue is resolved—you could be doing more harm to your body than good. Following a workout or competition where you are sore, turn first to ice and compression. Each is able to reduce inflammation while still allowing it to perform its task of repairing damaged tissue. Ice and compression are both able to be applied to the specific area of complaint which allows repair and recovery of the other areas of your body.
NSAID's have their place in the world of sports medicine, and it is always after activity when there is noticeable pain that ice and compression cannot relieve. Should that not be enough, you should have the complaint evaluated by a physician specializing in joint and soft tissue injuries as soon as possible.
Stay active, and stay healthy!