Benefits and risks of using local anaesthetic for pain relief to allow early return to play in professional football

Br J Sports Med. 2002 Jun;36(3):209-13. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.36.3.209.


Objective: To investigate the risks and benefits of the use of local anaesthetic in a descriptive case series from three professional football (rugby league and Australian football) teams.

Methods: Cases of local anaesthetic use (both injection and topical routes) and complications over a six year period were recorded. Complications were assessed using clinical presentation and also by recording all cases of surgery, incidences of players missing games or leaving the field through injury, and causes of player retirement.

Results: There were 268 injuries for which local anaesthetic was used to allow early return to play. There were 11 minor and six major complications, although none of these were catastrophic or career ending. About 10% of players taking the field did so with the assistance of local anaesthetic. This rate should be considered in isolation and not seen to reflect standard practice by team doctors.

Conclusions: The use of local anaesthetic in professional football may reduce the rates of players missing matches through injury, but there is the risk of worsening the injury, which should be fully explained to players. A procedure should only be used when both the doctor and player consider that the benefits outweigh the risks.

MeSH terms

  • Acromioclavicular Joint / injuries
  • Anesthetics, Local / adverse effects
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Athletic Injuries / complications
  • Athletic Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Fasciitis / drug therapy
  • Football / injuries*
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intra-Articular
  • Osteolysis / etiology
  • Recovery of Function
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sports Medicine / methods*
  • Sprains and Strains / complications
  • Sprains and Strains / drug therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anesthetics, Local