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No Gain No Pain


Have you ever taken paracetamol or other pain killer prior to competing? A BBC interview with Dr Hans Geyer, Deputy Director of the WASA accredited lab in Cologne, suggests that many athletes use over the counter painkillers as performance enhancers.

After more than a decade of analyzing athletes’ samples Dr Geyer states that painkillers ‘fulfil all the requirements of a doping substance’ but it’s almost impossible to control the use of such substances.

So where do you draw the line on performance enhancers? It’s a difficult scenario and one that is infrequently touched upon. Dr Geyer used the example of top walker Andreas Erm who won a bronze medal in the 2003 World Championships. Erm was administered painkillers several times during the event. Although Erm wasn’t doing anything illegal he clearly gained an advantage over his competitors by using such a substance during the event.

Speaking on the BBC, Dr Geyer understands it will be almost impossible to limit their use within sport. “I think the control of these substances is impossible, as they are easily available in society. Therefore it is not possible to treat the use of painkillers in the same way as other doping substances.”

A similar report appeared recently, where FIFA’s chief medical officer Dr Jiri Dvorak voiced his alarm over the fact that almost 40% of players tested at the 2010 World Cup were taking pain medication prior to every game, with some consuming three or more medications at once. Dr Dvorak believes that a major factor in the increase of painkillers in football is due to pressures on team doctors to get injured players back on the pitch more quickly.

We have received information from a number of sources in the past that painkillers have been used in events such as time trials and mountain stages at the top end of the sport to help mask pain. Although legal, it exhibits an athletes willingness to gain an advantage over ones rivals, ‘legal doping’ if you like. A preferred painkiller amongst athletes was Tramadol which can be taken as a pill or injected directly into muscles prior to a race.  Tramadol is now a monitored substance, which confirms it’s performance benefits.

In such a cases, ethical decisions should preside but it is a subject that will surely invoke a great deal of discussion further ahead. As with most drugs, prolonged use, especially to ones liver, can cause harm and side effects if used on a regular basis. Our concern is also that young athletes will imitate the actions of senior athletes.