Single dose oral analgesics for acute postoperative pain in adults - an overview of Cochrane reviews

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 28;2015(9):CD008659. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008659.pub3.


Background: This is an updated version of the original Cochrane overview published in Issue 9, 2011. That overview considered both efficacy and adverse events, but adverse events are now dealt with in a separate overview.Thirty-nine Cochrane reviews of randomised trials have examined the analgesic efficacy of individual drug interventions in acute postoperative pain. This overview brings together the results of those individual reviews and assesses the reliability of available data.

Objectives: To summarise the efficacy of pharmaceutical interventions for acute pain in adults with at least moderate pain following surgery who have been given a single dose of oral analgesic.

Methods: We identified systematic reviews in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in The Cochrane Library through a simple search strategy. All reviews were overseen by a single review group, had a standard title, and had as their primary outcome the number of participants with at least 50% pain relief over four to six hours compared with placebo. For individual reviews, we extracted the number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNT) for this outcome for each drug/dose combination, and also the percentage of participants achieving at least 50% maximum pain relief, the mean of mean or median time to remedication, and the percentage of participants remedicating by six, eight, 12, or 24 hours. Where there was adequate information for pairs of drug and dose (at least 200 participants, in at least two studies), we defined the addition of four comparisons of typical size (400 participants in total) with zero effect as making the result potentially subject to publication bias and therefore unreliable.

Main results: The overview included 39 separate Cochrane Reviews with 41 analyses of single dose oral analgesics tested in acute postoperative pain models, with results from about 50,000 participants in approximately 460 individual studies. The individual reviews included only high-quality trials of standardised design, methods, and efficacy outcome reporting. No statistical comparison was undertaken.Reliable results (high quality information) were obtained for 53 pairs of drug and dose in painful postsurgical conditions; these included various fixed dose combinations, and fast acting formulations of some analgesics. NNTs varied from about 1.5 to 20 for at least 50% maximum pain relief over four to six hours compared with placebo. The proportion of participants achieving this level of benefit varied from about 30% to over 70%, and the time to remedication varied from two hours (placebo) to over 20 hours. Good (low) NNTs were obtained with ibuprofen 200 mg plus paracetamol (acetaminophen) 500 mg (NNT compared with placebo 1.6; 95% confidence interval 1.5 to 1.8), ibuprofen fast acting 200 mg (2.1; 1.9 to 2.3); ibuprofen 200 mg plus caffeine 100 mg (2.1; 1.9 to 3.1), diclofenac potassium 50 mg (2.1; 1.9 to 2.5), and etoricoxib 120 mg (1.8; 1.7 to 2.0). For comparison, ibuprofen acid 400 mg had an NNT of 2.5 (2.4 to 2.6). Not all participants had good pain relief and, for many pairs of drug and dose, 50% or more did not achieve at least 50% maximum pain relief over four to six hours.Long duration of action (eight hours or greater) was found for etoricoxib 120 mg, diflunisal 500 mg, paracetamol 650 mg plus oxycodone 10 mg, naproxen 500/550 mg, celecoxib 400 mg, and ibuprofen 400 mg plus paracetamol 1000 mg.There was no evidence of analgesic effect for aceclofenac 150 mg, aspirin 500 mg, and oxycodone 5 mg (low quality evidence). No trial data were available in reviews of acemetacin, meloxicam, nabumetone, nefopam, sulindac, tenoxicam, and tiaprofenic acid. Inadequate amounts of data were available for nine drugs and doses, and data potentially susceptible to publication bias for 13 drugs and doses (very low quality evidence).

Authors' conclusions: There is a wealth of reliable evidence on the analgesic efficacy of single dose oral analgesics. Fast acting formulations and fixed dose combinations of analgesics can produce good and often long-lasting analgesia at relatively low doses. There is also important information on drugs for which there are no data, inadequate data, or where results are unreliable due to susceptibility to publication bias. This should inform choices by professionals and consumers.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Pain / drug therapy*
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics