Do painkillers have a place in competitive sports?

Due to the physical nature of hockey “pain and injuries are inevitable occupational hazards and health risks in athletes’ working lives”. In high level sports, it is common to see athletes playing through minor injuries so they can continue to help their team. However, when this mentality is taken too far some coaches are giving their athletes copious amounts of painkillers to ensure they stay in the game despite facing further or more severe injuries, getting to the point the players became dependent on the drugs and had to be weaned off

Tweet from Tom Sestito

Former Canuck Tom Sestito recently tweeted about the “insane” amounts of pain killers he was given during his time playing which has led to a deeper investigation and further questioning throughout the league. The NHL has a lot of younger players, and it is important that they can identify early on where their limits are and communicate with their coaches and trainers when they are being pushed beyond their limits. It is also vital to allow time off to heal for the more severe injuries that require athletes to take time off to allow a full recovery. The former Canuck played the fading role of the enforcer, and therefore protected his team through physical contact, and was given painkillers to be able to absorb more damage. 

In a study on elite athletes “many athletes reported a sport related use of analgesics” (Overbye, 2020). It was found that painkillers are commonly used to “help an athlete compete in an important match; train during an important period; qualify for an important match or final; and keep one’s position on a team”. Aside from the more traditional uses of painkillers, some athletes reported being given painkillers for other purposes such as “enhancing performance, avoid lowering performance, aiding recovery, training/competing injured and prophylactic use”.

Hockey can be an extremely taxing sport, both mentally and physically. However, taking large amounts of painkillers to continue playing is extremely risky and the team’s doctors and trainers should be stepping in and preventing mistreatment. 


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