IV therapy is most commonly known as a fast, effective method of delivering fluids and medications to patients. But over the years, there has also been an increase in less-conventional use outside of hospitals such as vitamin infusions, hangover ‘cures’, and athletics.  

Learn the main reason why professional sports teams are using IVs and what medical professionals think about this approach.  

Why athletes are using IV therapy   

IV therapy is often seen in professional sports as a way to quickly hydrate athletes before and during games. In fact, a study found 3 out of 4 teams in the National Football League (NFL) use IVs to hydrate players ahead of games and help minimize muscles cramps.  

The NFL isn’t alone – this practice is now common in the NBA and other professional sporting leagues. But while other sports use IVs for this purpose as well, research is limited to support this trend and or popular claim.  

According to a 2012 study, “Although anecdotal evidence does exist, at this time there are no high-level studies confirming that IV pre-hydration prevents dehydration or the onset of exercise-associated cramps.”  

Is IV therapy allowed in sports?  

It’s worth noting that the United States Anti-Doping Agency prohibits Olympic athletes from receiving IV infusions or injections over 100 mL unless the IV is placed for legitimate medical reasons such as in a hospital for surgery or clinical investigations.   

But even these guidelines haven’t stopped some athletes from utilizing IVs. United States Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte was suspended just last year after posting a photo of himself receiving an IV infusion that wasn’t pre-approved for therapeutic use.  

Do the benefits outweigh the risks?  

Whether or not athletes are allowed to use IVs as a method of hydration seems to vary across professional sports. But after photos and video were released of a high school football team hooked up to saline IVs on a bus and in a hallway, many questioned where the line should be drawn.  

School officials claim the IVs were prescribed by a doctor ‘to prevent and reduce cramping prior to games’ and that they were monitored by nurses. But medical professionals still voiced concerns about if the benefits truly outweighed the risks.  

“If it isn’t put in correctly or it slips out and it is bumped around because they are walking around the hallways with an IV (in) it could pull free,” said Dr. Kevin Murphy with Southeast Orthopedic Specialists. “Then all that fluid you are trying to get into their vein goes into the skin or soft tissue.”  

This is known as an IV infiltration, which is just one form of IV failure that can occur during infusions. Infiltration can be caused in a few ways, including the IV being unintentionally pulled out of place.   

It’s important to remember that receiving an IV is a medical procedure that comes with benefits and risks. While using IVs for hydration seems to be growing in popularity in sports, the lack of research and concern from medical professionals should be taken into consideration.  

Your Recommended Reads: 

 References:  

Intravenous Fluid Use in Athletes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435915/  

Is it prohibited for athletes to use IV infusions for rehydration and recovery? https://www.usada.org/is-it-prohibited-or-dangerous-for-athletes-using-iv-infusions-for-re-hydration-and-recovery/   

Olympic Swimmer Ryan Lochte banned 14 months for IV infusion – https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2018/07/23/olympic-swimmer-ryan-lochte-banned-14-months-iv-infusion/819116002/   

Photos show high school athletes getting IV therapy in hallway, on bus – https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/photos-show-high-school-athletes-getting-iv-therapy-in-hallway-on-bus/77-616011556  

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