Analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs in sports: Implications for exercise performance and training adaptations

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Nov;28(11):2252-2262. doi: 10.1111/sms.13275. Epub 2018 Sep 2.


Over-the-counter analgesics, such as anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and paracetamol, are widely consumed by athletes worldwide to increase pain tolerance, or dampen pain and reduce inflammation from injuries. Given that these drugs also can modulate tissue protein turnover, it is important to scrutinize the implications of acute and chronic use of these drugs in relation to exercise performance and the development of long-term training adaptations. In this review, we aim to provide an overview of the studies investigating the effects of analgesic drugs on exercise performance and training adaptations relevant for athletic development. There is emerging evidence that paracetamol might acutely improve important endurance parameters as well as aspects of neuromuscular performance, possibly through increased pain tolerance. Both NSAIDs and paracetamol have been demonstrated to inhibit cyclooxygenase (COX) activity, which might explain the reduced anabolic response to acute exercise bouts. Consistent with this, NSAIDs have been reported to interfere with muscle hypertrophy and strength gains in response to chronic resistance training in young individuals. Although it remains to be established whether any of these observations also translate into detriments in sport-specific performance or reduced training adaptations in elite athletes, the extensive use of these drugs certainly raises practical, ethical, and important safety concerns that need to be addressed. Overall, we encourage greater awareness among athletes, coaches, and support staff on the potential adverse effects of these drugs. A risk-benefit analysis and professional guidance are strongly advised before the athlete considers analgesic medicine for training or competition.

Keywords: acetaminophen; endurance; ibuprofen; muscle adaptations; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; paracetamol; recovery; strength.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / pharmacology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects*
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Athletes
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Resistance Training
  • Sports


  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Acetaminophen