prescriptions for athletes

6 Drugs Athletes Are Prescribed

From creams to treat tracker-induced rashes to birth control and more

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When you push your body day in and day out, you’re bound to get injured eventually (though hopefully it's short-lived and minor). It happens even to the greatest athletes. While you should never go into your doctor’s office expecting to leave with a certain ‘script—after all, they are the expert and know what’s best based on your symptoms and history—we talked to a few sports medicine specialists to get an idea of the most common prescriptions they write for exercisers. Anti-inflammatory pills, like ibuprofen to treat minor exercise-related aches, and antifungals to counteract athlete's foot were high up on their most-prescribed lists. But, there were also some more surprising treatments. More interesting still: the vast majority of them really aren’t that scary, and a couple you can pick up at your local drugstore. Here, 6 unexpected remedies docs often prescribe their fit patients. 

Rx: Topical Steroid
Treats: Rashes from fitness devices, which are on the rise, says Brooke A. Jackson, M.D., founder and medical director of Skin Wellness Center of Durham, SC. Dermatitis (like eczema) can develop from anywhere your skin touches a device—on the wrist from your watch, on the chest from a heart rate monitor. But a fungal infection, which is also super common in athletes, looks very much like eczema and treatment for one can make the other worse, so, as always, it’s super important to get an exam from your doc, Jackson adds.


Rx: Birth control
Treats: Irregular periods. When women exercise a lot, it can prevent their period from coming every month, says Benjamin Domb, M.D., sports medicine specialist and orthopaedic surgeon in Chicago. While this may sound like a great side effect to most of the fairer sex, amenorrhea—the medical term for it—can actually cause osteoporosis in young women, leading to increased risk of fractures, which is not only dangerous but also potentially irreversible, he explains. Birth control pills supplement estrogen levels, helping maintain bone health.

Rx: Anti-spasmodics
Treats: Muscle spasms or cramping, which you can get from both aerobic or anaerobic training, says Domb. Why is it worthy of a script? Some people get muscle spasms so crippling that it keeps them from finishing a competition. At this severity, rehydrating and restocking your electrolyte levels just won’t cut it, he adds. See your doc if you can relate.

Rx: Topical anti-inflammatory

Treats: Joint pain. “Someone who works out often will likely need an anti-inflammatory to treat tendonitis, when the tendons become inflamed from overuse or injury, often from repetitive motions, like in tennis, golf, and running,” says Imran Ashraf, M.D., sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon in New York City. Whereas oral NSAIDs will work for total body anti-inflammatories, topical creams like Voltaren gel can be used to target localized pain (so directly on your elbow or on your knee).

Rx: Antacids

Treats: The heartburn and stomach ulcers caused by taking too many OTC anti-inflammatories (like ibuprofen), Domb says. Since exercise and sports often cause inflammation of muscles, tendons, or joints, your doc may advise you to take anti-inflammatories for a prolonged period of time. He or she might counteract the side effects with an antacid medication like as Prilosec, Zantac, Pepcid, or Protonix, Domb explains.

Rx: Stem cells, growth factor injections, and other regenerative medicine

Treats: Damaged tissue without surgery. “Some of the most exciting cutting edge treatments for tendinitis and early arthritis are stem cell and growth factor injections, treatments also referred to as ‘regenerative medicine,” Domb says. “These treatments may actually cause your own cells to repair damaged tissue in your tendons, ligaments, or cartilage, allowing athletes and active individuals to avoid surgery and stay in the game.”