Use of Medicines in Sports (Care of the Young Athlete)

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The primary use of medicines in sports is to
treat pain and inflammation. Athletes may also take medicines to treat specific
medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, or to treat common illnesses,
like colds, congestion, cough, allergies, diarrhea, and skin infections.

Athletes should talk with their doctor before using
any medicines to learn how to use them correctly, how much to take, if there are
any side effects, and how they might affect their sports. The use of
supplements, including iron and vitamins, as well as any supplement used to
enhance sports performance, should also be discussed with a doctor.

General guidance

  • Medicines should only be a small part of
    an overall treatment plan. Sports injuries need to be properly diagnosed
    and treated in a way that looks at both the causes and effects of the
    injury.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
    (NSAIDs) are helpful for chronic conditions in which the inflammation
    does not help the injury heal. For acute injuries, they may actually
    delay healing.

  • Do not use more than one NSAID at the
    same time. It is fine to use with acetaminophen. NSAIDs should be taken
    with food, even if it is just a snack.

  • Pain medicines can be used to treat
    acute injuries. However, in some cases, pain relief can mask important
    warning signs and lead to further injury.

  • Long-term use of medicines that reduce
    pain or inflammation should not occur without the approval of a doctor.
    If long-term use is needed, athletes should see their doctor regularly
    to check for side effects.

  • All medicines can have side effects and
    can affect training and sports performance. Athletes should always check
    with a doctor before using medicines to treat injuries or illnesses.

  • Always follow the instructions for
    dosing on the package or from your doctor when using medicines.

  • Never borrow or share prescription
    medicines—even if they are used for a similar condition.

  • Supplements are medicines, even though
    they are not packaged or advertised as such, and should be treated with
    the same caution.

  • Athletes who may be drug tested should
    be aware that many prescription and nonprescription medicines are banned
    from use in training and competition. A list of banned substances can be
    found at www.usada.org.

Nonprescription medicines

Nonprescription medicines are ones that do not
require a doctor’s order. However, this does not mean they are safer than
prescription medicines. Two of the most common nonprescription medicines used in
sports are

  • NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (2 brand names
    are Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (one brand name is Aleve), to reduce
    pain and inflammation (swelling)

  • Analgesic medicine, such as
    acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol), to reduce pain

These medicines are most often used to relieve
pain, spasm, or chronic inflammation. For acute injuries such as sprains,
strains, and fractures, long-term (more than 3 to 7 days) use of NSAIDs may
actually delay healing. Short courses (less than 3 to 7 days) of these medicines
may speed recovery in ligament injuries, while their effects on muscular and
bony injuries are less clear. However, with overuse injuries, such as
tendonitis, bursitis, shin splints, or arthritis, they may help the recovery
process. Acetaminophen can be used to reduce pain in both acute and overuse
injuries but is not helpful in reducing swelling or inflammation.

Side effects of NSAIDs

NSAIDs, both prescription and nonprescription,
have side effects including stomach upset, gastritis, and ulcers. They also have
a blood-thinning effect and can increase the likelihood of bleeding after a cut,
deep bruise, muscle strain, or head injury. Long-term use can affect the kidney
and liver. Athletes who are dehydrated or have kidney or liver disease should
not take NSAIDs.

When to see a doctor

Medicines alone are rarely sufficient to treat
sports injuries. Pain and swelling can also be treated with rest, ice,
immobilization, compression, bracing, and elevation. Medicines can mask pain,
which can lead to further injury. For more severe or ongoing problems, athletes
should talk to their doctor about further diagnostic testing and additional
treatment options. In general, if athletes need to take a medicine to play, they
should see a doctor.

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