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Review
, 328 (7446), 995

Systematic Review of Efficacy of Topical Rubefacients Containing Salicylates for the Treatment of Acute and Chronic Pain

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Review

Systematic Review of Efficacy of Topical Rubefacients Containing Salicylates for the Treatment of Acute and Chronic Pain

Lorna Mason et al. BMJ.

Abstract

Objective: To determine the efficacy and safety of topical rubefacients containing salicylates in acute and chronic pain.

Data sources: Electronic databases and manufacturers of salicylates.

Study selection: Randomised double blind trials comparing topical rubefacients with placebo or another active treatment, in adults with acute or chronic pain, and reporting dichotomous information, around a 50% reduction in pain, and analyses at one week for acute conditions and two weeks for chronic conditions.

Data extraction: Relative benefit and number needed to treat, analysis of adverse events, and withdrawals.

Data synthesis: Three double blind placebo controlled trials had information on 182 patients with acute conditions. Topical salicylate was significantly better than placebo (relative benefit 3.6, 95% confidence interval 2.4 to 5.6; number needed to treat 2.1, 1.7 to 2.8). Six double blind placebo controlled trials had information on 429 patients with chronic conditions. Topical salicylate was significantly better than placebo (relative benefit 1.5, 1.3 to 1.9; number needed to treat 5.3, 3.6 to 10.2), but larger, more valid studies were without significant effect. Local adverse events and withdrawals were generally rare in trials that reported them.

Conclusions: Based on limited information, topically applied rubefacients containing salicylates may be efficacious in the treatment of acute pain. Trials of musculoskeletal and arthritic pain suggested moderate to poor efficacy. Adverse events were rare in studies of acute pain and poorly reported in those of chronic pain. Efficacy estimates for rubefacients are unreliable owing to a lack of good clinical trials.

Figures

Fig 1
Fig 1
Flow diagram of papers in review
Fig 2
Fig 2
L'Abbé plot for rubefacient v placebo in trials on chronic pain

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