Analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs in sports: implications for exercise performance and training adaptations

Tommy Lundberg, Glyn Howatson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)
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Over-the-counter analgesics, such as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and paracetamol, are widely consumed by athletes worldwide to increase pain tolerance, or dampen pain and reduce inflammation from injuries. Given that these drugs also can modulate tissue protein turnover, it is important to scrutinize the implications of acute and chronic use of these drugs in relation to exercise performance and the development of long-term training adaptations. In this review we aim to provide an overview of the studies investigating the effects of analgesic drugs on exercise performance and training adaptations relevant for athletic development. There is emerging evidence that paracetamol might acutely improve important endurance parameters as well as aspects of neuromuscular performance, possibly through increased pain tolerance. Both NSAIDs and paracetamol have been demonstrated to inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX) activity, which might explain the reduced anabolic response to acute exercise bouts. Consistent with this, NSAIDs have been reported to interfere with muscle hypertrophy and strength gains in response to chronic resistance training in young individuals. Although it remains to be established whether any of these observations also translate into detriments in sport-specific performance or reduced training adaptations in elite athletes, the extensive use of these drugs certainly raises practical, ethical and important safety concerns that need to be addressed. Overall, we encourage greater awareness among athletes, coaches and support staff on the potential adverse effects of these drugs. A risk-benefit analysis and professional guidance is strongly advised before the athlete considers analgesic medicine for training or competition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2252-2262
JournalScandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports
Issue number11
Early online date13 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


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