Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for neuropathic pain in adults

Neuropathic pain is pain which comes from damaged nerves, spinal cord, or brain. It is different from pain messages that are carried along healthy nerves from damaged tissue (for example, a fall or cut, or arthritic knee). Neuropathic pain is treated by different medicines to those used for pain from damaged tissue. Medicines that are sometimes used to treat depression or epilepsy can be very effective in some people with neuropathic pain.

Commonly used painkillers such as ibuprofen (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID) are not usually considered to be effective in treating neuropathic pain, but in some parts of the world they are used commonly for neuropathic pain conditions.

In May 2015 we searched for clinical trials in which oral NSAIDs were used to treat neuropathic pain in adults. We found only two small studies that included 251 participants who had chronic low back pain with a neuropathic component, or had neuropathic pain after shingles. Of these 251 participants, 209 were in a study of an experimental drug that is not licensed and not available for use.

The trial results show that there was no difference between NSAIDs and placebo in terms of pain or adverse events (very low quality evidence). There is no good evidence to tell us whether or not oral NSAIDs are helpful to treat neuropathic pain conditions.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is no evidence to support or refute the use of oral NSAIDs to treat neuropathic pain conditions.

Read the full abstract...

Although often considered to be lacking adequate evidence, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are widely used in the management of neuropathic pain. Previous surveys found 18% to 47% of affected people reported using NSAIDs specifically for their neuropathic pain, although possibly not in the United Kingdom (UK).


To assess the analgesic efficacy of oral NSAIDs for chronic neuropathic pain in adults, when compared to placebo or another active intervention, and the adverse events associated with its use in clinical trials.

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE from inception to 29 May 2015, together with reference lists of retrieved papers and reviews, and an online trials registry.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised, double-blind studies of two weeks duration or longer, comparing any oral NSAID with placebo or another active treatment in chronic neuropathic pain.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently searched for studies, extracted efficacy and adverse event data, and examined issues of study quality. We did not carry out any pooled analysis.

Main results: 

We included two studies involving 251 participants with chronic low back pain with a neuropathic component or postherpetic neuralgia; 209 of these participants were involved in a study of an experimental NSAID not used in clinical practice, and of the remaining 42, only 16 had neuropathic pain. This represented only third tier evidence, and was of very low quality. There was no indication of any significant pain reduction with NSAIDs. Adverse event rates were low, with insufficient events for any analysis.