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The role of tramadol in current treatment strategies for musculoskeletal pain

Authors Stephan A Schug

Published 15 November 2007 Volume 2007:3(5) Pages 717—723

Stephan A Schug

Pharmacology and Anaesthesiology Unit, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia and Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine, Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Western Australia

Abstract: Non-selective and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) selective non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been the mainstay of treatment for musculoskeletal pain of moderate intensity. However, in addition to gastrointestinal and renal toxicity, an increased cardiovascular risk may be a class effect for all NSAIDs. Despite these safety risks and the acknowledged ceiling effect of NSAIDs, many doctors still use them to treat moderate, mostly musculoskeletal pain. Recent guidelines for treating osteoarthritis and low back pain, issued by numerous professional medical societies, recommend NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors only in strictly defined circumstances, at the lowest effective dose and for the shortest possible period of time. These recent guidelines bring more focus to the usage of paracetamol and opioids. But opioids still remain under-utilized, although they are effective with minimal organ toxicity. In this setting, the atypical, centrally acting analgesic tramadol offers important benefits. Its multimodal effect results from a dual mode of action, ie, opioid and monoaminergic mechanisms, with efficacy in both nociceptive and neuropathic pain. Moreover, fewer instances of side effects such as constipation, respiratory depression, and sedation occur than with traditional opioids, and tramadol has been prescribed for 30 years for a broad range of indications. Tramadol is now regarded as the first-line analgesic for many musculoskeletal indications. In conclusion, it is recommended to better implement the more recent guidelines focusing on pain management and consider the role of tramadol in musculoskeletal pain treatment strategies.

Keywords: musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic low back pain, opioids, NSAIDs, coxibs, tramadol, multi-modal

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