Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which many athletes gobble down before and during events, could be causing more harm than good, says an expert.
"These agents are treatments for the symptoms of an injury, not the injury itself," said Stuart Warden, whose research at Indiana University focuses on musculoskeletal health and sports medicine.
"They may allow an athlete to exercise or train at a certain level, but pain occurs for a reason. It is basically the body's mechanism of saying, 'Hang on, you've got some sort of injury that should not be ignored,'" he added.
NSAIDs are recommended for use after an injury to reduce swelling or pain.
However, studies have found that many elite athletes take these over-the-counter drugs-and often several different kinds, before contests and challenging workouts because they think they will reduce anticipated inflammation and soreness that could occur after the event.
Warden said that there is no scientific evidence for this prophylactic use of NSAIDs but such misuse can cause a range of problems, from interfering with healing and inhibiting the body's ability to adapt to challenging workouts, to the development of stomach ulcers and possibly an increased risk for cardiovascular problems.
The larger the dose and the longer duration of NSAID use, the greater potential for these risks.
Warden said: "I want people, including recreational athletes, to think about the perceived benefits versus potential risks of taking NSAIDs, and to ask themselves why they are taking these agents. They need to ask, 'Do the benefits outweigh the risks?"
Warden warned against the misuse of NSAIDs in an editorial published earlier this year in the 'British Journal of Sports Medicine.'