For those suffering from osteoarthritis of the knees or hands, applying topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — in the form of creams, gels and patches — can bring weeks of pain relief, finds a new review by The Cochrane Library.
While oral NSAIDs are more common for managing musculoskeletal pain, reviewers wanted to examine the effectiveness of the topical variety for managing pain for longer than 8 weeks. And while they have been widely used for years in some parts of the world, topical NSAIDs have been slow to become popular in the U.S.
A team of reviewers evaluated 34 studies involving 7,688 adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain for a period of at least 3 months. Participants were organized into groups using either a topical NSAID applied at least once daily, such as diclofenac, ketoprofen, indomethacin, and ibuprofen; a placebo; or an oral NSAID.
The reviewers found the topical NSAID diclofenac was as effective as oral NSAIDs for arthritis in the knee or hand and it gave more participants good pain relief compared to the placebo in studies lasting 8–12 weeks. In four studies, for example, diclofenac gave 60 percent of participants’ pain relief over 8–12 weeks compared to 50 percent of those in the placebo group.