Cycling Injury Knowledge Base Triathlon

Painkiller use in cyclists and triathletes: a health risk that should not be underestimated

Quite a few athletes take painkillers either to suppress existing pain or as a preventive measure to avoid feeling pain during a competition. However, uncontrolled use poses a significant health risk.

Hanspeter Betschart, Facharzt
Specialist in General Internal Medicine FMH, Sports Medicine SEMS, Deputy Director Medizin Medbase Abtwil



Painkillers can be a blessing for a pounding headache or a nasty stomachache. But anyone who takes so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, Voltaren and Brufen, or other painkillers (parcetamol etc) before, during or shortly after running is putting their health at risk. Firstly, because the pain is not taken seriously as a warning signal, and secondly, side effects of painkillers are more common when accompanied by physical exertion.

Pain as a warning signal

When a joint hurts or a muscle pinches, the body uses pain as a warning signal that there is a problem. However, if these warning signals are always ignored and the causes are not addressed, it can lead to injury and even permanent damage.

What to do when it hurts

Triathlon is a very training-intensive sport. Accordingly, many complaints occur because there is an overload and misload of the muscular and skeletal system. It is therefore worthwhile to critically question one’s training plan and listen to the signals of the body. As an immediate measure, you can cool the painful area and then warm it as you go along. It is also important to take a break from the sport in which pain occurs in order to rest. If the pain does not improve quickly with these measures, a visit to the doctor is recommended.

Caution: A doctor should always be consulted if the pain is so severe that it requires the use of painkillers.

Training advice

The sports scientists and sports physicians of Medbase check your performance level with an endurance test. Based on this, they will explain to you in a clear and uncomplicated way how you can optimally design and dose your training.
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No sports while taking painkillers

If a sports physician prescribes you painkillers, follow the therapy plan (dosage, frequency, time of intake, sports load, etc.) exactly. In this way, you reduce negative consequences to a minimum and the enjoyment of triathlon can be maintained. For amateur athletes, we recommend break from exercise as long as they are taking painkillers.

Side effects are more frequent during stress

Preventive use of painkillers during competitions should be avoided as a matter of principle – it is dangerous and morally reprehensible towards the competitors. If you take painkillers under stress, the probability of side effects increases. Kidney dysfunction or even kidney failure can occur. Furthermore, ulcers can occur in the stomach and small intestine, which can cause life-threatening bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. This affects the cardiovascular system also with severe increases in blood pressure and water retention in the tissues.

But why does this increase the likelihood of side effects? During exercise, for example during a run, the cardiovascular system works at full speed and the fluid balance can become confused; these two effects favor the occurrence of side effects. The use of painkillers should therefore always be well considered and only after consultation with a (sports) doctor. In addition to examining the painful areas, the doctor can also check whether there are any diseases of the kidneys, digestive tract or circulatory system.

Tips and tricks to avoid pain:

  • Increase your training slowly and make it varied
  • Plan rest days and stretch regularly
  • Get good running equipment (appropriate for the weather, proper running shoes with advice)
  • Control your riding position on the bike

Wer ist Medbase?
Medbase ist das grösste multidisziplinäre sportmedizinische Netzwerk der Schweiz und bietet spezialisierte sportmedizinische Dienstleistungen für Athletinnen und Athleten, Vereine und Sportverbände aller Aktivitätsstufen in den Bereichen Sportmedizin, Sportphysiotherapie, Leistungsdiagnostik und Trainingsberatung.


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