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BACKGROUND: Although athletic endeavours are associated with a high amount of physical stress and injury, the prevalence of pain is underreported in the sports medicine literature with only a few studies reporting pain on collegiate athletes or exploring sex difference of pain. Impact of pain on athlete availability, training and performance can be mitigated when key epidemiological information is used to inform adequate pain management strategies. This study aims to 1) provide an epidemiological profile of self-reported pain experienced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes by sex during the first half of the 2019 season, 2) describe their self-reported non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use. METHODS: Online survey was completed by athletes at three NCAA institutions from 1 August to 30 September 2019. Descriptive statistics were used to describe player demographic data, self-reported pain and self-reported NSAID use. Pain incidence proportion were calculated. RESULTS: Two hundred thirty female athletes and 83 male athletes completed the survey. Self-reported pain incidence proportion for female athletes was 45.0 (95% CI 41.5-48.5) vs 34.9 (95% CI 29.4-40.4) for male athletes. Majority of the athletes did not report pain (55% female vs 62% male) during the first half of the 2019 season. Female athletes reported pain in their back (35%), knee (26%), and ankle/foot (23%) whilst male athletes reported pain in their knee (35%), back (28%), and shoulder (24%). Of all athletes, 28% female vs 20% male athletes reported currently taking NSAIDs. Of athletes that reported pain, 46% female vs 38% male athletes currently took NSAIDs. 70% female vs 61% male athletes self-purchased NSAIDs, and 40% female vs 55% male athletes consumed alcohol. CONCLUSIONS: Half of female athletes and one in three male athletes reported pain. Most commonly back, knee and foot/ankle pain and knee, back and shoulder pain was reported in female and male athletes respectively. One in four female athletes and one in five male athletes use NSAIDs for pain or prophylactic purpose. Majority self-purchase these medications indicating need for health literacy interventions to mitigate potential adverse effects.

Original publication




Journal article


Bmc musculoskelet disord

Publication Date





Athlete health, Elite sport, Female athletes, Health literacy, Injury prevention, Sleep, Sports medicine