International Soccer Players & Painkillers

Painkiller abuse is a growing concern for the International Federation of Association Football

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Professional soccer players all over the world are overusing and abusing painkillers to stay on the field. Long-term health consequences of the abuse of painkillers are cause for growing concern among doctors.

Research reveals more than one-third of all soccer players at the World Cup took painkillers before every single game. Sometimes players were even given painkillers to ‘prevent’ pain from injuries that hadn’t even occurred yet.

"Never take unnecessary painkillers."

FIFA stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, and it governs soccer teams in 209 countries all over the world. It has been around since 1904 and is responsible for putting on the World Cup every four years.

FIFA's medical officer, Jiri Dvorak, MD, professor and senior consultant at the Department of Neurology in the Spine Unit at the Schulthess Clinic in Switzerland, has publicly voiced his concerns over the high usage of painkillers in professional soccer players internationally.

In a study affiliated with the Schulthess Clinic in Switzerland, Dr. Dvorak and his colleague Dr. Philippe Tscholl, dug into the use of painkillers by 2010 World Cup participants. Data was collected from each team’s doctor listing the types and dosages of medication 72 hours before each game.

During the World Cup, 71.1 percent of all players were taking medication, 60.3 percent (444 of 736 players) took painkillers at least one time. Thirty-nine percent of the players took painkillers before every single game. Finals games caused more painkiller usage than qualifying games. North and South American players took nearly twice as many painkillers than players from the other four participating continents.

Overuse and abuse of painkillers can have long-term side effects that hurt the liver, kidneys and even the heart. Dr. Dvorak told interviewers from the BBC, “I think we can use the word abuse—because the dimension is just too much. Unfortunately, there is the trend to increase the intake of medication. It is something that we have to really take seriously and ask what is behind it?”

One of Dr. Dvorak’s concerns is that the use and abuse of painkillers by the older, seasoned soccer players is setting the wrong example for the younger players and will encourage a cycle of accepted painkiller abuse across the board in soccer all over the world.

Another concern is that the players are under pressure to push themselves to return to play even if they are injured and need to rest. “The team doctors, most of them they are under pressure between the diagnosis and the appropriate treatment between the pressure to bring the player on the pitch, if they take them too long out they might be out of a job.”

Dr. Hans Geyer, deputy director of the World Anti-Doping Agency agrees with Dr. Dvorak’s results: “What we have seen from the FIFA studies is that often athletes take the pain killers as a preventative. They take them to prevent a pain, which may occur, to be totally insensitive. The problem is, if you switch off alarm systems that protect your tissues, you can have irreversible destruction of tissue.”

This study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, March 2012. The interview with Dr. Jiri Dvorak was posted on the BBC NEWS Science & Environment website, June 4, 2012.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2012
Last Updated:
October 25, 2012