If you need to use pain relievers to make it through a class or performance, ask yourself why. (Getty Images)

Pain Relievers 101: Everything Dancers Need to Know

For dancers, aches and pains are just a way of life. But deciding which medication to take for what pain, and when? It can be confusing. Dance Spirit talked to two experts in the field to find out everything you ever wanted to know about pain relievers.


The Whos and Whats

According to Jeff Russell, associate professor and athletic trainer at the Ohio University, there are four major types of over-the-counter pain relievers you need to know. And, he adds, "it's important for dancers to know generic names."

The first two types of generic pain relievers you should know about are both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If that sounds like a mouthful, you can just call them "NSAIDs." The first NSAID to keep in mind is ibuprofen, which you can find in brand-name pain relievers like Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin. The second is naproxen, which is used in Aleve. All of these NSAIDs are pretty similar—they just have slightly different chemical makeups, and they are all intended to relieve pain and decrease inflammation.

Next up, we have acetaminophen, a pain reliever and fever reducer. Acetaminophen can be found in most notably, Tylenol and Midol. Russell notes that since Midol is a pain reliever targeted at easing period pains, it's actually a multi-drug compound, and uses stuff like caffeine and antihistamine to help with other period symptoms. Many other medicines aimed at menstrual cramps are also multi-drug compounds, so make sure to read the label.

The last major over-the-counter pain reliever to familiarize yourself with is aspirin, which is marketed under brand names like Bayer Aspirin and Bufferin. Aspirin is a major multi-tasker—it's a pain-reliever, an anti-inflammatory, a fever reducer, and a blood anticoagulant.

A woman holds a pill in one hand, as though she is about to take it, and a glass of water in the other.

Be sure to drink at least one or two glasses of water when taking pain relievers. (Getty Images)

The Hows and Whens

If you're planning on taking pain relievers, make sure to eat first. "You never want to take anti-inflammatories on an empty stomach," says Rowan Paul, MD, supervising physician at San Francisco Ballet. "It could even be a few crackers, a banana, or a glass of milk." Taking anti-inflammatories on an empty stomach can increase the risk for ulcers, gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining. Paul also recommends drinking at least one or two glasses of water to protect your kidneys and avoid dehydration (especially if you'll be dancing).

Make sure to pay attention to the recommended dosage listed on the bottle. "I've seen dancers take pain relievers like they're M&Ms," says Russell. "But these are not innocuous medicines. More is not better—follow label instructions." He warns that ignoring label instructions can produce many of the negative side effects common to pain relievers and anti-inflammatories.

In terms of when to take pain relievers, timing is important. Russell says that pain relievers typically start working within 30 minutes. Take them within an hour of starting your class or performance to make sure they're active when you need them.

But Most Importantly, Why?

If you need to use pain relievers just to get through a class or performance, you might want to consider why. "Why are you reducing pain if it's a signal that something is wrong?" he says. "Have you had the problem assessed, so you know you're not making it worse by dancing on it?"

Paul agrees. "It's better to feel what your injury is so you can monitor how it's healing," he says. "The last thing we want is for someone to dance on an injury and injure it more." He adds that at SFB, they actually discourage regular use of pain relievers when dancers are in season.

Both Paul and Russell discourage extended use of pain relievers. "I have no problem with people using pain relievers for a limited amount of time," says Russell. "But it's not OK to take anti-inflammatories as a regular part of your dance practice, like warming up or stretching. That's wrong thinking, and it can be dangerous."

Overuse of anti-inflammatories and pain killers can have serious side effects, from gastrointestinal distress, like nausea, vomiting, and ulcers, to cardiovascular disease or kidney and liver toxicities.

Latest Posts


Nathan Sayers

From "Dance Moms" to Complexions: Ballerina Kaeli Ware's Unconventional Path to Success

Take one look at Kaeli Ware's Instagram page and you'll be captivated. The elegant, impossibly long-limbed ballet dancer has over 110 thousand followers hooked on her every polished move. But the 19-year-old phenom isn't just a social media sensation. Having already conquered the competition scene and the world of dance reality TV, Ware recently joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet as a trainee. These days, she splits her time between NYC and Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to beef up her classical training at The Rock School for Dance Education.

She's not a traditional bunhead, and she's not a run-of-the-mill social influencer, either. Instead, Ware is creating her own hybrid career path—and it's taking her to impressive places.

Keep Reading
(From left) Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, and Lauren Graham in "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," courtesy NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Mandy Moore Puts Dance in the Spotlight in NBC's Newest Series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist"

Imagine living in a real-life musical, where spontaneous song-and-dance breaks happen as often in the street as they do onstage. After a series of unusual events, every dancers' dream becomes an unexpected reality for computer coder Zoey Clarke (played by Jane Levy) in NBC's newest series, "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist." Although at first her new powers catch Zoey off guard, when she learns to embrace them, she's able to connect with the world around her like never before.

And the best part? Every musical mashup puts incredible dancing front and center, thanks in large part to series choreographer and all around dance-for-the-screen extraordinaire, Mandy Moore. Dance Spirit chatted with Moore about choreographing for the dance-driven series, which returns to NBC with all-new episodes this Sunday, February 16 at 9/8c.

Keep Reading
Jerry Metellus, courtesy Val Chmerkovisky and Jenna Johnson

The Dance Power Couples of 2020

Given the endless hours dancers spend together in classes, rehearsals, and performances, it makes sense that onstage chemistry frequently leads to romance IRL. Sometimes the resulting relationships go beyond stage magic. Serious dance power couples not only perform together, but also collaborate on choreographic projects, embark on joint national tours, and even partner up for mainstream media gigs.

Here are seven fabulous dance couples we'll be 'shipping into the years ahead.

Keep Reading
contest
Enter the Cover Model Search