Management of Pain in Elite Athletes: Identified Gaps in Knowledge and Future Research Directions

Clin J Sport Med. 2018 Sep;28(5):485-489. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000618.


Objective: For elite athletes to train and compete at peak performance levels, it is necessary to manage their pain efficiently and effectively. A recent consensus meeting on the management of pain in elite athletes concluded that there are many gaps in the current knowledge and that further information and research is required. This article presents the crystallization of these acknowledged gaps in knowledge.

Data sources: Information was gathered from a wide variety of published scientific sources that were reviewed at the consensus meeting and the gaps in knowledge identified.

Main results: Gaps have been identified in the epidemiology of analgesic use, the management of pain associated with minor injuries, and the field of play management of pain for athletes with major injuries. From a pharmacological perspective, there is a lack of information on the prescribing of opioid medications in elite athletes and more data are required on the use of local anesthetics injections, corticosteroids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs during training and in competition. Pain management strategies for the general population are widely available, but there are few for the elite sporting population and virtually none for elite athletes with a disability. More research is also needed in assessing cognitive-behavior therapies in improving specific outcomes and also into the new process of psychologically informed physiotherapy. A key issue is the paucity of data relating to incidence or prevalence of persistent pain and how this relates to persistent dysfunction, exercise performance, and physiological function in later life.

Conclusions: The identification of the gaps in knowledge in the management of pain in elite athletes will provide a unified direction for the retrieval of information and further research that will provide reassurance, speed return to active sport, and benefit performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Anesthetics / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Injuries / drug therapy
  • Athletic Performance
  • Humans
  • Injections
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Sports


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anesthetics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal