Prevalence, frequency, adverse events, and reasons for analgesic use in youth athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 44,381 athletes

Julie Rønne Pedersen*, Alessandro Andreucci, Jonas Bloch Thorlund, Bart W. Koes, Merete Møller, Louise Kamuk Storm, Alessio Bricca

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives: To identify the prevalence, frequency, adverse effects, and reasons for analgesic use in youth athletes. Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Methods: Systematic searches in Embase, Medline, and SPORT-Discus from inception to September 2021, screening of reference lists, and citation tracking were performed to identify observational studies including athletes aged 15–24 years and reporting data on prevalence and/or frequency of analgesic use. Study quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Random-effect proportion meta-analyses, stratified by type of analgesic medication and prevalence measure, estimated the prevalence of analgesic use. Data on usage frequency, adverse events, and reasons for analgesic use was synthesized narratively. Results: Forty-nine studies were included (44,381 athletes), of which 19 were good/high quality. Seven categories of analgesics were identified across 10 prevalence time-points. Meta-analyses suggested common use of NSAIDs (point prevalence 48 % [95 % CI 23 % to 73 %], in-season prevalence 92 % [95 % CI 88 % to 95 %]). The lowest prevalence was found for use of local anesthetic injections within the previous 12 months (2 % [95 % CI 1 % to 3 %]). Seven to 50 % of athletes reported weekly analgesics use. The proportion of adverse events ranged from 3.3 % to 19.2 %. Reasons for using analgesics included treatment of sports-related pain or injury, to treat illness, and to enhance performance. Conclusions: Analgesics are commonly used in youth athletes, but estimates vary depending on type of analgesic and prevalence measure. As the majority of studies were of poor methodological quality, future high-quality research should include prospective data collection of analgesic use to understand consumption trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)810-819
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

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  • Analgesics
  • Athletes
  • Pain
  • Sport


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