Maybe you should just stop playing tennis…


Anyone with a television has seen the commercials. “Just two Aleve and I can play tennis all day again. Thanks, Aleve!” Or how about the man who can run a half marathon after popping some Advil? The commercials for NSAIDs and other OTC pain relievers all make the same promise: take our drug and that pain that prevents you from doing your favorite activity will be gone!

What these commercials fail to point out, however, is that these drugs are not curative. There is nothing in naproxen, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen that will restore your joints or slow the progression of your arthritis, tendonitis, or whatever the hell else you have. Yes, these drugs will treat your pain, and they’ll do it quite effectively. Perhaps a little too effectively. And this is one of the dangers of OTC pain medications: they permit you to continue physical activity that is damaging your body.

Sure, Advil will mask the pain of your runner’s knee, allowing you to run again. But running is what caused your pain in the first place. Tennis elbow? Yeah, I guess downing some Motrin will stop the you can go out and damage your elbow all over again by playing tennis! There’s this attitude in this country, this entitlement, this “I shouldn’t have to give up my favorite activities!” sentiment. Yes, yes you should have to give them up. Like, say, when the cartilage in your knee is almost gone. That’s mother nature telling you to hang up the running shoes and maybe hit the swimming pool. It’s all terribly cyclical: your elbow hurts from playing tennis, so you buy Aleve and get rid of the pain, without the pain you play tennis again, and playing tennis again further damages your elbow which brings the pain back, so you buy more Aleve…ad infinitum.

The human body is a wonderful machine capable of self repair, but that ability is limited. If you push your body beyond it’s natural healing abilities, you’re going to fuck shit up. And if you fuck up a joint or your spine there ain’t a whole lot we can do for you. The same thing goes with aging. By the virtue of being alive, your body will degenerate. For the time being, it’s inevitable that your body will decline in function and ability the older you get. Treating pain is treating a symptom–it is not treating the underlying disease processes, whether it’s aging, arthritis, or mechanical injury/stress.

Perhaps this attitude we have toward pain medication is rooted in our cultural attitude surrounding quick fixes. We’re a nation of pill poppers–“Is there a pill for that?” We’ve been conditioned by endless marketing to just expect certain things from medical science. Perhaps it has to do with our cultural obsession with youth. Everybody in this country is afraid to age. The prospect of getting older horrifies people. So when the first inkling of aging, say a touch of arthritis, develops they go straight into denial.

Getting older or losing functional ability isn’t a sentence to a life of boredom and sedentary activity. Maybe you swim or bike instead of run. Or maybe you only run a 5k instead of a half marathon. Maybe instead of that two day 20 mile backpacking trip you just do a 7 mile overnighter. Perhaps instead of tennis you take up yoga or dancing. Maybe you do a little rehabilitation before resuming physical activity instead of just guzzling pills everyday.


3 thoughts on “Maybe you should just stop playing tennis…

  1. Fair point about changing your activity, but it isn’t always so easy to implement. Haruki Murakami has a book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It isn’t always simply about the activity itself. It can mean something more. We know that plenty of our daily activities are harmful to us in the long run. What we eat, lack or excessive exercise, smoking, drinking, not sleeping, etc. You make the calculations and decide if the behavior is worth the possible outcome (or you become Rob Lowe from Parks and Rec). For some, they’d rather run for as long as they can than walk more comfortably later in life, which isn’t a guarantee anyway.
    There’s plenty more I can say about this topic, but I’ve rambled on too much already! My apologies. haha.

    1. No need to apologize! And for the record, I loved Lowe’s character on Parks and Rec.

      I totally get what you’re saying about people not always making choices that benefit them. I still don’t get the logic behind wearing your body out as fast as you can just because their are no guarantees in life, though. Using the “who knows what will happen tomorrow” logic you can justify all sorts of unseemly choices and decisions. That being said, people aren’t always logical…lol

      1. I didn’t so much mean the no guarantees in life was the argument to continue a behavior, I just added it for the sake of being thorough. I agree, that’s a pretty terrible reason to do something.
        The idea I meant to relate, is that we can understand what the risks are, and still decide that it’s worth it because of what we choose to put value in.
        I’m not expressing my position very well, but hopefully you can shift through that mess and find what I’m trying to say.

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