Comparison of morphine, ketorolac, and their combination for postoperative pain: results from a large, randomized, double-blind trial

Anesthesiology. 2005 Dec;103(6):1225-32. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200512000-00018.


Background: Meta-analyses report similar numbers needed to treat for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids. Differences in baseline pain intensity among the studies from which these numbers needed to treat were derived may have confounded the results. NSAIDs have an opioid-sparing effect, but the importance of this effect is unclear. Therefore, the authors sought to compare the proportions of subjects who obtain pain relief with ketorolac versus morphine after surgery and to determine whether the opioid-sparing effect of an NSAID reduces the magnitude of opioid side effects.

Methods: The study was a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. The authors randomly assigned 1,003 adult patients to receive 30 mg ketorolac or 0.1 mg/kg morphine intravenously. They calculated the proportion of subjects who achieved at least 50% reduction in pain intensity 30 min after analgesic administration. Further, so long as pain intensity 30 min after analgesic administration was 5 or more out of 10, patients received 2.5 mg morphine every 10 min until pain intensity was 4 or less out of 10. The authors assessed the presence of opioid-related side effects.

Results: Five hundred patients received morphine and 503 received ketorolac. Fifty percent of patients in the morphine group achieved pain relief, compared with 31% in the ketorolac group (difference, 19%; 95% confidence interval, 13-25%). The ketorolac-morphine group required less morphine (difference, 6.5 mg; 95% confidence interval, -5.8 to -7.2) and had a lower incidence of side effects (difference, 11%; 95% confidence interval, 5-16%) than the morphine group.

Conclusions: Opioids are more efficacious analgesics than NSAIDs, although historic data for these two drugs yield similar numbers needed to treat. Adding NSAIDs to the opioid treatment reduces morphine requirements and opioid-related side effects in the early postoperative period.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ketorolac / administration & dosage
  • Ketorolac / adverse effects
  • Ketorolac / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / adverse effects
  • Morphine / therapeutic use*
  • Pain Measurement / drug effects
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Sample Size
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Morphine
  • Ketorolac