With the current media attention given to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, one might think that this is the only "drug" issue facing athletes in our current sports environment. However, as Dr. Weil points out in his piece at Trib Local Naperville (Illinois), Link of Sports And Drugs Runs Deep, this is not the case.
One of the concerns I've always had is that especially at the elite and professional levels, the physical and mental demands of sports are way beyond normal. Today even adolescent athletes have troubling access to over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naprosyn (Aleve). These drugs are way overused to keep kids "in the game."
Calling this overuse of inflammatory medications "performance survival," Dr. Weill goes on to discuss how this use, or better stated "misuse," has become the standard in today's sports and youth sports culture. No longer are athletes giving themselves proper recovery time in order to let the body have a better chance of healing itself, these days you just take a pill.
This is something I can certainly attest to as I strongly encouraged my own kids, during their sports careers growing up, to stay away from these medications as a means of masking injury to keep them playing. That, in the long run, overuse of these substances can cause more harm than good since their main function is to alleviate the symptoms caused by injury or illness, not necessarily to help heal the body.
This can be a tough thing to get across to young athletes since many of their friends and teammates take anti-inflammatory medications as if they were dietary supplements. A good number even resort to stronger types of these medications as they seek medical attention for their injuries. As Dr. Weil puts it:
Use of prescription painkillers, painkilling injections and all sorts of anti-inflammatory medicines, cortisone injections and the like are the norm, not the exception.
Dr. Weil's concerns are made especially clear through the suggestions he gives for improving the situation:
Pro sports need to adopt the Olympic program of drug test criteria independent of each sport's politics.
If it is shown that some drugs including so-called performance enhancing drugs are helpful and therapeutic for injury recovery and healing, then allow them--provided they are used under medical supervision.
At the very least, increased awareness and education are needed about drug use. We should try to slow reliance on pain medicine, especially in youth sports - a little "intelligent rest" is often missing.
We've got to better understand the physical demands of some of these sports schedules.
Coupled with some sound, ethical decision-making, these above suggestions by Dr. Weil could very well make a difference.
Great piece, Doc!!!