Anti-inflammatory therapy in sports injury. The role of nonsteroidal drugs and corticosteroid injection

Clin Sports Med. 1995 Apr;14(2):353-410.


Strong statements regarding the efficacy of anti-inflammatory medication are based primarily on experience with rheumatic disease. Such experience, over 32 years, involving more than 400,000 injections in more than 12,000 patients, has led Hollander and associates to conclude that "no other form of treatment for arthritis has given such consistent local symptomatic relief in so many for so long with so few harmful effects." Such endorsement has not been clearly transferrable to sports medicine experience. Anti-inflammatory medications can unquestionably affect excessive inflammation. Whether this tissue effect is significant with regard to enhancing sports performance has been difficult to prove. To quote Oriole baseball pitcher Jim Palmer, "cortisone is a miracle drug ... for a week!" Perhaps this is because in rheumatologic disease, inflammation is the problem, whereas in sports injury, performance recovery depends on restoration of both the injured tissue and its kinetic environment. The tendency to place an inflammatory label (i.e., "itis") on sports-induced pain has promoted the value of anti-inflammatory treatment while risking a de-emphasis of the role of physical rehabilitation and even well-timed surgical repair. If pain and signs of inflammation are persistent, repeated efforts to turn off the body's alarm is not a substitute for finding the cause of the fire. Indeed, to remove the "fire alarm" of pain from the onset of an injury can clearly place the athlete in great jeopardy with respect to tissue overload and failure. Perhaps the greatest criticism that can be raised regarding anti-inflammatory treatment as a sole solution in sports injury is that it tends, in its worst application, to be too passive and dependent a modality and does not challenge the athlete's sense of responsibility to properly train, condition, and develop correct technique. Thus, anti-inflammatory therapy may succeed only if the patient has been instilled with the proper expectations and responsibilities. Increasing knowledge of the pathobiology of sports injury and the various treatments required for complete recovery has led the experienced clinician to rely far less upon anti-inflammatory medication as a long-term solution. Nevertheless, until more biologically selective drugs become available, the judicious application of anti-inflammatory therapy remains a useful, albeit adjunctive therapy for sports injury. The successful clinical rationale is best arrived at not by random selection but by cautious individualized prescription.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / pharmacology
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacology
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Athletic Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / drug therapy
  • Humans


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal