Objective: Systematic reviews previously reported in the literature document that topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are effective in relieving pain in acute and chronic painful musculoskeletal disorders including osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and muscle strains. Because several topical NSAIDs are available, with important differences among the formulations, there is a need to address and summarize the evidence of their effectiveness and safety. Design: We searched Medline and Cochrane CENTRAL databases for clinical trials and systematic reviews of topical NSAIDs in musculoskeletal pain, using the following keywords: " NSAID," " nonsteroidal," " anti-inflammatory," " topical," " cream," " gel," " solution," " lotion," " patch," plaster," " musculoskeletal," " tendonitis," " strain," " sprain," " trauma," and word roots " pain" and " arthritis." Conclusions: Topical NSAIDs may vary significantly in their absorption kinetics and pharmacodynamic effects, based on NSAID molecule and the formulation chosen. Some topical NSAID formulations have been shown to be more effective than placebo in multiple studies, or to have comparable efficacy and a better safety profile than oral NSAIDs for single joint osteoarthritis and acute muscle injuries. In acute and chronic low back pain, widespread musculoskeletal pain, and in peripheral neuropathic pain syndromes, the current evidence does not support the use of topical NSAIDs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-549
Number of pages15
JournalPain Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Musculoskeletal
  • Nonsteroidal
  • Pain
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Topical


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