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athletic therapist, pain-relieving medication, health care providers, pain management, opioids


Elite-level athletes often identify with the “athletic role” and embody personality characteristics associated with it. As such, athletes often have a “play at all costs” mentality which creates significant issues when injured. Frequently, athletes will play through pain and injury and rely on pain-relieving medication (PRM) to allow continuation of play. This reliance can pose significant risks to the athlete, including addictions to PRM and prevent the health care providers (HCP) from accurately assessing injuries. In 1995, pain was identified as the “fifth vital sign”, ensuring that physicians recognize the importance of pain management. This resulted in pharmaceutical companies expediting research into drugs (opioids) which had optimal pain control with little or no addictive qualities. Opioids were originally developed to treat serious conditions such as cancer, however, opioid prescription for musculoskeletal conditions occurred to manage pain. Athletes will often self-medicate with PRM based on the advice of internet sources, peers, or self-education. Individuals who have been previously prescribed opioids to manage pain related to an injury will often use their prescription for injuries not related to the original prescription or provide their prescription to other athletes. The side effects of opioid use are many, however, addiction and cognitive impairment are two that should be concerning to the HCP affiliated with athletes. Athletic Therapists (ATs) and other HCP who work with elite athletes are often the sole or primary resource athletes rely on for health-related information. Athletes report that the AT is a resource for pain management strategies including the use of PRM, however many ATs report a lack of knowledge regarding PRM and as such may not provide accurate information regarding its use. As well, because the AT is primarily responsible for the management of an athlete’s injuries, crucial signs and symptoms may be missed simply because the athlete has an inability to experience pain. The use of PRM by athletes is common, however, athletes are often uneducated about the effects of PRM use and as such are unaware of the consequences, potentially putting their health at risk. Implementing strategies to educate athletes on PRM is key to preventing misdiagnosis, addictions and even death due to overdose. Providing educational informational sessions to both the AT and the athlete can help to mitigate issues with PRM misuse. This review highlights the current state of PRM use and provides recommendations to ATs and other key stakeholders.


Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies (FAHCS)

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
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