What is it about?

Creams, gels and patches applied to the skin are often recommended by doctors for relieving osteoarthritis pain. Common examples are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, and capsaicin (the substance that makes chilli peppers “spicy"). This paper analysed results from 28 clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of different osteoarthritis pain relief treatments applied to the skin.

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Why is it important?

The cost of topical treatments prescribed by the NHS each year is significant. Over £32 million worth of prescriptions of topical NSAIDs were dispensed in England in 2016. Topical NSAIDs are also freely available over-the-counter. Meanwhile, capsaicin is primarily available on prescription in the UK. Almost 200,000 tubes of capsaicin were dispensed in 2016, amounting to over £4 million. In our study, no significant differences were identified in the level of pain relief offered by topical NSAIDs compared to capsaicin.

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This page is a summary of: The relative efficacy of topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and capsaicin in osteoarthritis: a network meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, December 2018, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.joca.2018.08.008.
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