Heterotopic ossification (HO) is a known complication of hip arthroplasty. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial by Beckmann et al. in the December 16, 2015 Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery showed that prophylaxis with naproxen dramatically reduced the prevalence of HO after hip arthroscopy, without serious medication-related side effects. These findings bolster findings from previous retrospective investigations that showed large reductions in HO prevalence among those taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The patients in the study took naproxen (500 mg) or a placebo twice a day for three weeks following arthroscopic surgery for femoroacetabular impingement. After one year, the prevalence of radiographically determined HO in patients randomized to the naproxen group was 4% versus 46% in the patients randomized to the placebo group, an 11-fold difference. While the potential for serious GI and renal side effects with NSAIDs is well-documented, in this study only minor adverse reactions to study medication were reported in 42% of those taking naproxen and in 35% of those taking placebo.
Noting that the clinical consequences of HO following hip arthroscopy are “largely undetermined,” the authors still suggest a role for HO prophylaxis “because it could reduce the risk of developing symptomatic HO or requiring revision surgery for HO excision.”
In an accompanying commentary, Sverre Loken praises the authors for the well-designed study, but he cautions that “clinically relevant HO is uncommon, and this has to be weighed against the risk of serious side effects caused by NSAIDs.” He also emphasizes the observation Beckmann et al. make in the last paragraph of their study: that “the lowest dose and shortest duration of NSAID prophylaxis that still prevent HO remain to be determined.”
Many orthopaedists and primary care clinicians recommend acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as a first-line approach for patients with osteoarthritis (OA) or back pain. However, two recent studies call into question how well these pharmacological approaches actually work.
A study employing a new-user design and data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative concluded that short-term use of prescription NSAIDs (such as naproxen, celecoxib, and meloxicam) had no clinical effect in more than 1,800 patients with radiographically confirmed knee osteoarthritis. Long-term use (defined as NSAID use reported at three consecutive annual assessments) was associated with clinically important but not statistically significant improvements in stiffness and function (per WOMAC scales), but not pain. Notably, the rate of NSAID use at all three annual assessments was very low, and the authors concluded that the common discontinuation of NSAID use suggested in this study “call[s] for further understanding of the extent to which potential side effects [of NSAIDs] can be mitigated with gastroprotective agents.”
A meta-analysis of acetaminophen’s effectiveness (13 randomized trials with a total of 5,366 patients) found that the medication did not improve pain, disability, or quality of life for back-pain sufferers, and that its pain-relieving effects in people with knee or hip OA were statistically but not clinically significant. These findings led an editorialist commenting on the meta-analysis to conclude that “the time has come to shift our attention away from tablets as the default option for managing chronic musculoskeletal pain.” As alternatives, he recommended topical NSAIDs, physical therapy, and better coaching on patient self-management. The editorialist also emphasized that these findings should not prompt clinicians to increase prescriptions for opioids.