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Your internal clock could affect how long it takes to recover from surgery

Researchers say our circadian clocks best determine when to take painkillers

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Photo (c) GeorgeRudy - Getty Images
Recent studies have shown how our inner circadian rhythms can affect everything from our sleep cycles to the benefits we get from exercise. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from McGill University has revealed yet another way that our internal clocks can affect our bodies. 

According to the researchers, consumers should take their circadian clocks into consideration during surgery recovery, as our bodies respond differently to painkillers, and inflammation more generally, during waking hours versus resting hours. 

“The body has rhythms,” said researcher Faleh Tamimi. “And if you give it anti-inflammatories in the morning you are working with the rhythm of the body and when you give them at night, you are working against it so you disrupt the healing.” 

Timing is key

The researchers conducted their study on mice with broken tibias to determine the best practices for consumers recovering from surgery. 

The mice were broken up into two groups: one group received anti-inflammatories around the clock to help relieve their pain post-surgery. The second group took anti-inflammatories in the morning and were switched to analgesics at night. 

For Tamimi and the team of researchers, this decision was made to see what role the mice’s natural circadian rhythms played in their healing. 

“The idea that I came up with...is that we could perhaps use the circadian variations in inflammation to our advantage,” said Tamimi. “The destructive component of the circadian rhythm as it relates to bone healing occurs during the day, when cells known as osteoclasts break down bones. The constructive cells, known as osteoblasts that rebuild bones are active at night.”

“By limiting the use of anti-inflammatories to the mornings and giving analgesics at night for the pain, I thought we might get better results in terms of bone healing than if anti-inflammatories are given throughout the day.” 

Using the best recovery method

Tamimi’s hunch was right, as the mice who received the combination of painkillers recovered significantly better than those who were on the strictly anti-inflammatory regimen. 

The researchers found that changing the medication at night led to a faster recovery and gave the mice better bone strength over the long-term. The primary takeaway from this study is that consumers should work with their bodies and follow the recovery process that works best. 

“When I was a child, and I cut myself, my mother would say to me, don’t worry, go to sleep and tomorrow you will be better,” said researcher Haider El-Waeli. “It turns out she was right because most of the healing happens at night.” 

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