Popping pain pills in the long run puts players' health at risk

Richard Gasquet of France serves to Kyle Edmund of Britain during their 2016 US Open Men's Singles Round 1 match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug 29, 2016 in New York.
Richard Gasquet of France serves to Kyle Edmund of Britain during their 2016 US Open Men's Singles Round 1 match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug 29, 2016 in New York. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • For all the talk of banned performance-enhancing drugs in sport, mundane anti-inflammatory pain medications may be more of an issue on the tennis tour, according to numerous players.

Indeed, players competing at the US Open could be risking their long-term health by playing through pain to achieve their goals.

In the final Grand Slam event of the year, when the likes of Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams are battling injuries, many are likely to popping pills to push their aching bodies one more time.

"You would be surprised how many anti-inflammatories I take," said 15th-ranked Richard Gasquet, a Frenchman who has suffered numerous injuries during his career.

"I do it a lot. It's not something I would choose to do, but sometimes I have no choice."

Taking pain medication before and after matches has become the norm as the boundaries of physical possibility continue to expand.

But taking too much is believed to actually slow down the recovery process after injury and taking them too regularly can cause long-term harm, some experts say.

"With respect to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, persons should take as few as possible for the shortest duration possible," Dr Eric Matteson, a consultant at the Mayo Clinic, said. "The concerns with prolonged use are risks of developing kidney failure and hypertension, as well as stomach ulcers."

Goran Ivanisevic said taking anti-inflammatories was a necessary evil. "When I won Wimbledon (in 2001), I was smashing them," he said. "I took them like candies.

"After a while I didn't even feel it, it didn't do me any good. But when you have a chance, in my case, to win Wimbledon, you take whatever, you don't care.

"But in the end I had shoulder surgery. The pain was so (severe) that painkillers didn't work so I had to have surgery."

The women's tour, the WTA, distributes detailed information to its players, warning them of the dangers of over-use.

The men's tour, the ATP, says its physicians only prescribe anti-inflammatories "when indicated for the treatment of an injury".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Popping pain pills in the long run puts players' health at risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe