Prescription medications are those drugs that are only capable of being obtained by way of a written order from a physician or other medical professional. Prescription medication is an expression that is commonly used as a contrast to over the counter medications that may be purchased without restriction at pharmacies and other commercial outlets.
Athletic performance is defined as the physical ability of the athlete to perform in a desired way. The physical abilities of an athlete may often be impacted by non-physical factors, such as the psychological state of the athlete.
There are a variety of different ways that prescription medications can impact upon athletic performance. In many cases, medications are prescribed to assist an athlete in overcoming an identified physical limitation. In other circumstances, the medication is intended to counter a non-athletic condition, but the medication has either known or unforeseen consequences upon performance.
Insulin, prescribed to counter diabetes in some persons, is an example of a medication that impacts upon an athlete. In many cases the athlete who is prescribed insulin must carefully adjust their dosage to ensure that the body's natural response to exercise does not interfere with the intended effect of the insulin.
In all circumstances, the fact that a medication was prescribed by a licensed doctor is not a defense to a charge against an athlete for using a banned substance. International athletic organizations are bound by the rules of the World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA). The agency requires athletes to obtain therapeutic use exemptions in circumstances when medication is required for an athlete to maintain his or her normal health.
Of the medications prescribed to specifically assist an athlete, the various types of asthma medications are most readily associated with improved athletic performance. There are many different asthma medications that may be prescribed, all having bronchodilator effects, serving to open the otherwise constricted passages of the airways. Corticosteroids are available as an asthma medication; these are steroid formulations that assist in reducing the inflammation of the airways that often occurs in conjunction with an asthma attack. Beta 2 agonists are another common group of asthma drugs. These substances act to relax the muscles in the vicinity of the affected areas of the airways.
For millions of people around the world, physical exercise would be difficult if not impossible but for these prescribed medications.
In a similar fashion, prescription anti-inflammatories aimed at relieving the effects of joint pain are often the only means by which an athlete can continue to compete pending either surgical intervention or retirement from the activity. Steroid based cortisone and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are prescribed for this purpose. These anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes taken in conjunction with prescription analgesics (pain killers), particularly among professional or elite level athletes. These medications, as they do not treat the underlying cause but address only the symptoms, may permit the athlete to perform in the short term. Prescription painkillers have become a frequent source of addiction. National Football League quarterback Brett Favre was one of many athletes in recent years to become addicted to prescription painkillers, initially prescribed to assist him in his play. OxyContin (oxycodone hydrochloride) is a very powerful prescription painkiller where dependency is a risk if the athlete is attempting to compete and "play through pain."
The prescription of painkilling medication can, in some circumstances, lead to more significant injuries for the user. Painkillers tend to entirely mask the normal pain signals that are produced by the body when a tissue or structure experiences pain. Particularly in cases of soft tissue injury that has been the subject of an analgesic treatment, an athlete can do significantly greater damage to their body while the pain sensors are masked. In intricate structures, such as the groin muscles, or ones that are subjected to significant ongoing stress, such as the knee, serious tears of the tissue can be masked by the administration of a pain killer.
The number of prescription medications that are likely to impair performance or otherwise present a risk to an athlete is almost endless. Many of the medications are seemingly innocuous in a non-athletic context. Examples of a common prescription medication with possible athletic ramifications are oral contraceptives prescribed to women. In some women, the contraceptive tends to regulate menstrual periods, which can be an advantage to competitive athletes who wish certainty as to the extent and timing of their menstrual cycle.