Purpose: Non-selective (NSAIDs) and selective (COX-2) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. Their role after orthopaedic surgery has been infrequently described and remains controversial because of unclear effects on soft tissue and bone healing. This study critically reviews the available literature to describe the effects of NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors on soft tissue and bone healing.
Methods: A Medline search was performed using NSAIDs or COX-2 inhibitors and tissue healing. The combined search yielded 637 articles. Following exclusion, 44 articles were deemed relevant with 9 articles on soft tissue healing and 35 articles on bone healing. The available evidence is based primarily on animal data (39 studies), with considerable variation in study methods.
Results: In regard to soft tissue healing, there is insufficient evidence of a detrimental effect when using either NSAIDs or COX-2 inhibitors at standard doses for ≤2 weeks. For soft tissue to bone healing, a limited number of studies demonstrate impairment in healing. However, with respect to bone healing, indomethacin appears to have a clear detrimental effect, with less substantial evidence for other NSAIDs.
Conclusions: Short-term, low-dose use of NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors does not appear to have a detrimental effect following soft tissue injury, but is inhibitory in cases involving bony healing. However, additional well-controlled human studies are necessary to draw more definitive conclusions regarding their role. Clinically, the prudent use of anti-inflammatory medications following sports medicine injuries and surgeries appears to be a reasonable option in clinical practice unless bone healing is required.
Level of evidence: III.