The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews has published ‘Topical analgesics for acute and chronic pain in adults”.
Topical analgesic drugs are used for a variety of painful conditions. Some are acute, typically strains or sprains, tendinopathy, or muscle aches. Others are chronic, typically osteoarthritis of hand or knee, or neuropathic pain.
Thirteen Cochrane Reviews (206 studies with around 30,700 participants) assessed the efficacy and harms from a range of topical analgesics applied to intact skin in a number of acute and chronic painful conditions. Reviews were overseen by several Review Groups, and concentrated on evidence comparing topical analgesic with topical placebo; comparisons of topical and oral analgesics were rare.
The Authors concluded that there is good evidence that some formulations of topical diclofenac and ketoprofen are useful in acute pain conditions such as sprains or strains, with low (good) number needed to treat (NNT) values. There is a strong message that the exact formulation used is critically important in acute conditions, and that might also apply to other pain conditions. In chronic musculoskeletal conditions with assessments over 6 to 12 weeks, topical diclofenac and ketoprofen had limited efficacy in hand and knee osteoarthritis, as did topical high-concentration capsaicin in postherpetic neuralgia. Though NNTs were higher, this still indicates that a small proportion of people had good pain relief.
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