OBJECTIVE. Our goal was to determine which of 3 analgesics, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or codeine, given as a single dose, provides the most efficacious analgesia for children presenting to the emergency department with pain from acute musculoskeletal injuries.

PATIENTS AND METHODS. Children 6 to 17 years old with pain from a musculoskeletal injury (to extremities, neck, and back) that occurred in the preceding 48 hours before presentation in the emergency department were randomly assigned to receive orally 15 mg/kg acetaminophen, 10 mg/kg ibuprofen, or 1 mg/kg codeine. Children, parents, and the research assistants were blinded to group assignment. The primary outcome was change in pain from baseline to 60 minutes after treatment with study medication as measured by using a visual analog scale.

RESULTS. A total of 336 patients were randomly assigned, and 300 were included in the analysis of the primary outcome (100 in the acetaminophen group, 100 in the ibuprofen group, and 100 in the codeine group). Study groups were similar in age, gender, final diagnosis, previous analgesic given, and baseline pain score. Patients in the ibuprofen group had a significantly greater improvement in pain score (mean decrease: 24 mm) than those in the codeine (mean decrease: 11 mm) and acetaminophen (mean decrease: 12 mm) groups at 60 minutes. In addition, at 60 minutes more patients in the ibuprofen group achieved adequate analgesia (as defined by a visual analog scale <30 mm) than the other 2 groups. There was no significant difference between patients in the codeine and acetaminophen groups in the change in pain score at any time period or in the number of patients achieving adequate analgesia.

CONCLUSIONS. For the treatment of acute traumatic musculoskeletal injuries, ibuprofen provides the best analgesia among the 3 study medications.

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