Pain killer epidemic in FIFA action?

The Independent in the UK is suggesting that many professional athletes are risking their  careers by dosing up on pain killers to stay in the game. The piece comes after the medical head of FIFA, Dr. Jiri Dvorak, revealed that nearly half the footballers at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were using anti-inflammatory painkillers. The article suggests that the problem goes well beyond football, and that it’s time for people to take notice.

FIFA’s Jiri Dvorak

Here’s part of that story:

“Unfortunately, there is the trend to increase the intake of medication. It is something that we have to really take seriously,” Dr Dvorak told the BBC. He cited the pressure on team doctors to get players back on the field as quickly as possible.

“Most of them, they are under pressure between the diagnosis and appropriate treatment, and between the pressure to bring the player back on the pitch. If they take them out for too long they might be out of a job,” he said.

Several players have described the damage done to themselves after they agreed to accept painkilling injections, normally of steroids into painful joints, before matches. Although the injections can be helpful in the short term, they are not recommended long term because of the risk of damage to tissues. Steroids weaken the immune system and can thin cartilage and there is a risk of infection from the injection.

Garry Monk, the Swansea City defender, described last year how he had had “one too many injections” in his back to help him to play, which had damaged a nerve, leaving him without feeling in his right foot.

Dr Dvorak’s views were echoed by Hans Geyer, the deputy director of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Dr Geyer said anti-inflammatories qualified as a “doping substance”, which allowed endurance athletes in particular to complete feats of running or walking that would not otherwise have been possible.

He warned footballers were trying to make themselves “insensitive” to pain.

“If you switch off alarm systems that protect your tissues, you can have irreversible destruction of tissue.”

There are a number of issues related to the over use of anti-inflammatory medications. First, masking pain can permit activity that will cause further injruy.  Second, the side-effects of the drugs can be serious, both short and long term.

Dvorak’s comments were made public as Euro 2012 is set to kick-off in Poland and the Ukraine later in the week. More than 50 players have already bowed out of the tournament because of injury, and some people are blaming the ever-increasing demands of the international football calendar.


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