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Analgesics for Osteoarthritis: An Update of the 2006 Comparative Effectiveness Review

Systematic Review ARCHIVED Oct 24, 2011
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Page Contents

Archived: This report has been updated.

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.

Project Timeline

Analgesics for Osteoarthritis: An Update of the 2006 Comparative Effectiveness Review

Apr 15, 2010
Topic Initiated
Aug 5, 2010
Oct 24, 2011
Systematic Review Archived
Page last reviewed December 2019
Page originally created November 2017

Internet Citation: Systematic Review: Analgesics for Osteoarthritis: An Update of the 2006 Comparative Effectiveness Review. Content last reviewed December 2019. Effective Health Care Program, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

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