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Analgesics for Osteoarthritis

An Update of the 2006 Comparative Effectiveness Review

Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, No. 38

Investigators: , MD, , PharmD, , MS, and , MS.

Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center
Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); .
Report No.: 11(12)-EHC076-EF

Structured Abstract


To update a previous report on the comparative benefits and harms of oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, over-the-counter supplements (chondroitin and glucosamine), and topical agents (NSAIDs and rubefacients, including capsaicin) for osteoarthritis.

Data Sources:

Ovid MEDLINE (1996–January 2011), the Cochrane Database (through fourth quarter 2010), and reference lists.

Review Methods:

We included randomized trials, cohort studies, case-control studies, and systematic reviews that met predefined inclusion criteria. For each study, investigators abstracted details about the study population, study design, data analysis, followup, and results, and they assessed quality using predefined criteria. We assessed the overall strength of each body of evidence using predefined criteria, which included the type and number of studies; risk of bias; consistency; and precision of estimates. Meta-analyses were not performed, though pooled estimates from previously published studies were reported.


A total of 273 studies were included. Overall, we found no clear differences in efficacy for pain relief associated with different NSAIDs. Celecoxib was associated with a lower risk of ulcer complications (RR 0.23, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.76) compared to nonselective NSAIDs. Coprescribing of proton pump inhibitors, misoprostol, and H2-antagonists reduce the risk of endoscopically detected gastroduodenal ulcers compared to placebo in persons prescribed NSAIDs. Celecoxib and most nonselective, nonaspirin NSAIDs appeared to be associated with an increased risk of serious cardiovascular (CV) harms. There was no clear association between longer duration of NSAID use or higher doses and increased risk of serious CV harms. There were no clear differences between glucosamine or chondroitin and oral NSAIDs for pain or function, though evidence from a systematic review of higher-quality trials suggests that glucosamine had some very small benefits over placebo for pain. Head-to-head trials showed no difference between topical and oral NSAIDs for efficacy in patients with localized osteoarthritis, lower risk of gastrointestinal (GI) adverse events, and higher risk of dermatological adverse events, but serious GI and CV harms were not evaluated. No head-to-head trials compared topical salicylates or capsaicin to oral NSAIDs.


Each of the analgesics evaluated in this report was associated with a unique set of risks and benefits. Choosing the optimal analgesic for an individual with osteoarthritis requires careful consideration and thorough discussion of the relevant tradeoffs.


Prepared for: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services1, Contract No. HHSA 290 2007 10057 I. Prepared by: Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon

Suggested citation:

Chou R, McDonagh MS, Nakamoto E, Griffin J. Analgesics for Osteoarthritis: An Update of the 2006 Comparative Effectiveness Review. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 38. (Prepared by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. HHSA 290 2007 10057 I) AHRQ Publication No. 11(12)-EHC076-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2011.

This report is based on research conducted by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Rockville, MD (Contract No. HHSA 290 2007 10057 I). The findings and conclusions in this document are those of the author(s), who are responsible for its contents; the findings and conclusions do not necessarily represent the views of AHRQ. Therefore, no statement in this report should be construed as an official position of AHRQ or of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The information in this report is intended to help clinicians, employers, policymakers, and others make informed decisions about the provision of health care services. This report is intended as a reference and not as a substitute for clinical judgment.

This report may be used, in whole or in part, as the basis for development of clinical practice guidelines and other quality enhancement tools, or as a basis for reimbursement and coverage policies. AHRQ or U.S. Department of Health and Human Services endorsement of such derivative products may not be stated or implied.

None of the investigators have any affiliations or financial involvement that conflicts with the material presented in this report.


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Bookshelf ID: NBK65646PMID: 22091473


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