We review the pharmacological properties and clinical evidence pertaining to the efficacy of ibuprofen as a first-line treatment in hip and knee osteoarthritis (OA). In the context of our previous paper's exploration of the aetiology and pathogenesis of OA as a basis for pharmacotherapy, we discuss the pharmacokinetics (PK) and clinical pharmacodynamics (PD) of ibuprofen relevant to OA.
Although widely used, the benefits and risks of ibuprofen, especially compared with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and placebo, have only recently been evaluated in OA of the hip and knee in randomized-controlled clinical trials (RCT). The efficacy and occurrence of adverse reactions from ibuprofen was compared with placebo in a structural review of the literature and systematic review of RCTs in large-scale clinical trials. Ibuprofen has been found to result in approximately 50–60% improvement over placebo in WOMAC scores, including those reflecting inflammatory joint pain in knee and hip OA or other indices of pain, disability and impaired function. Mega-trials performed in comparison with the newer NSAIDs, the coxibs, have shown that ibuprofen has comparable therapeutic benefits and although serious gastrointestinal conditions are sometimes more frequent after short-term treatment, longer-term (several months) therapy in OA reduces the advantages of the coxibs over other NSAIDs including ibuprofen. Cardiovascular risk, though present with coxibs and some NSAIDs in OA, is lower or slightly so with ibuprofen compared with coxibs.
Ibuprofen is effective and relatively safe (especially at low over-the-counter doses and in the short term) for mild-to-moderate OA of the knee and hip. The PK properties of ibuprofen in OA (short plasma t½) confer advantages of this drug for OA, while evidence for clinically relevant PD benefits in joints of patients with OA, though limited, is suggestive of local anti-inflammatory activity.