Breaking a bone can unfortunately be a very painful experience. Health care providers frequently prescribe pain medication like ibuprofen to help relieve the pain and swelling caused by a broken bone. Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin, for example) does a good job of relieving the pain of simple fractures and is safe for short-term use for people who don’t have allergy to this kind of medication, kidney disease, or a history of stomach ulcer. On the other hand, some health care providers are worried that using ibuprofen after a fracture may delay bone healing.
The reason for concern
All non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications, including ibuprofen, block the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals made by the body to help the healing of broken bones. When these chemicals are blocked, theoretically, bone healing can be delayed.
Test results and our recommendation
Studies in animals clearly show that ibuprofen and similar medications delay fracture healing, but most of these studies used non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs at doses higher than what a human would take. Other small studies in humans have not shown that ibuprofen delays the healing of fractures.
Even though there’s no strong evidence that ibuprofen delays bone healing in humans, why take the chance? Acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) doesn’t treat the pain and inflammation as well, but it may be a better choice since it doesn’t block prostaglandins. If you have questions regarding the use of pain medication for fractures, speak with your health care provider.