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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in sports medicine: guidelines for practical but sensible use

Abstract

Introduction: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are commonly used in sports medicine. NSAID have known anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic and antithrombotic effects, although their in-vivo effects in treating musculoskeletal injuries in humans remain largely unknown. NSAID analgesic action is not significantly greater than paracetamol for musculoskeletal injury but they have a higher risk profile, with side-effects including asthma exacerbation, gastrointestinal and renal side-effects, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

Discussion: The authors recommend an approach to NSAID use in sports medicine whereby simple analgesia is preferentially used when analgesia is the primary desired outcome. However, based both on the current pathophysiological understanding of most injury presentations and the frequency that inflammation may actually be a component of the injury complex, it is premature to suppose that NSAID are not useful to the physician managing sports injuries. The prescribing of NSAID should be cautious and both situation and pathology specific. Both dose and duration minimisation should be prioritised and combined with simple principles of protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation (PRICE), which should allow NSAID-sparing. NSAID use should always be coupled with appropriate physical rehabilitation.

Conclusion: NSAID are probably most useful for treating nerve and soft-tissue impingements, inflammatory arthropathies and tenosynovitis. They are not generally indicated for isolated chronic tendinopathy, or for fractures. The use of NSAID in treating muscle injury is controversial. Conditions in which NSAID use requires more careful assessment include ligament injury, joint injury, osteoarthritis, haematoma and postoperatively.

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests Declared. One author has previously received once-off funding from a drug company, Glaxo Smith Klein, but there are no current competing interests of any authors.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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