Is IV Use Okay?

December 18, 2018

IV use is nothing new in sports medicine circles. But a recent viral video, which depicted nearly a dozen football players from Thomasville (Ga.) High School receiving IV fluids on a school bus and in a hallway, is raising concerns about this type of treatment.

The school’s officials argue that the pregame therapy is prescribed by a doctor, monitored by certified nurses, and aims to prevent and reduce cramping before games. Yet the manner in which the IV fluids are administered has left many bothered, according to First Coast News.

“Sterility is an issue. It just seemed very unnecessary and almost third world medical care,” says Kevin Murphy, MD, board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Southeast Orthopedic Specialists in Jacksonville, Fla. “When we do medical treatment, we like to do it in the cleanest if not most sterile environment. Certainly, a high school locker room or school bus is not one of those things.”

Aside from concerns over cleanliness, Dr. Murphy also points out that bumps in the road and other environmental factors can cause mistakes or result in infection.

“If it isn’t put in correctly or it slips out and it is bumped around because [the players] are walking around the hallways with an IV in could pull free,” he says. “Then all that fluid you are trying to get into their vein goes into the skin or soft tissue.”

Though hydrating athletes through IV fluids to combat high temperatures and possible cramping is common at the professional and collegiate levels, others worry that allowing this trend to trickle down to high school athletics could be dangerous.

“The colleges start seeing it done in the pros so they start doing it. Then the high school program sees it done and say ‘Why don’t we do it?’ It doesn’t look like a real responsible situation,” says Jim Mackie, MEd, ATC, LAT, Owner of Athletic Training & Sports Medicine Services, LLC, in Jacksonville.

Aside from potential dangers, Mackie agrees with Dr. Murphy that this practice is unnecessary.

“The purpose of the IV fluid is for a medical condition where the person has extreme vomiting or extreme diarrhea or something that has been diagnosed,” Mackie says. “If you haven’t properly diagnosed what the condition is, then why are you even doing it?”

Despite concerns, Thomasville City Schools Superintendent Laine Reichert defends the high school’s practice, telling First Coast News that the coaching staff uses criteria (i.e., previous history with cramping, low body fat, etc.) to determine which student-athletes should be referred for the medical treatment.

“A physician at Archbold Medical Center prescribes the saline drips and the IVs are applied and monitored by certified nurses before games,” says Reichert. “I can assure you that Thomasville City Schools is one of the many districts that employ this preventative measure.”

However, when questioned, 15 school districts in Northeast Florida and South Georgia reported to First Coast News that they do not use IV fluids on student-athletes prior to competition. In a separate review, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found "a handful" of schools that use the practice. 

While the Georgia High School Association stays informed of this practice and allows schools to choose to opt for treating athletes in this manner, its official stance is unknown.

“The GHSA is silent on that issue [of IV therapy use],” a GHSA spokesperson told First Coast News. “We leave the doctoring to the doctors.”

Reichert claims that the IV treatment is working for Thomasville since she hasn’t witnessed any players getting cramps during a game. But Chip Clatto, former principal of Thomasville, isn’t convinced this pregame ritual should be performed on athletes at the high school level.

“When you see [the video], it’s kind of jaw dropping. Is this the best thing for our kids?” Clatto says. “From an ethical standpoint and a health and safety standpoint I would be concerned as an educational administrator.”

“It’s all about football games to a point, but let’s not put our kids at risk doing that,” concludes Dr. Murphy.

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