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Oral morphine versus ibuprofen administered at home for postoperative orthopedic pain in children: a randomized controlled trial [Research]


Oral morphine for postoperative pain after minor pediatric surgery, while increasingly popular, is not supported by evidence. We evaluated whether oral morphine was superior to ibuprofen for at-home management of children’s postoperative pain.


We conducted a randomized superiority trial comparing oral morphine (0.5 mg/kg) with ibuprofen (10 mg/kg) in children 5 to 17 years of age who had undergone minor outpatient orthopedic surgery (June 2013 to September 2016). Participants took up to 8 doses of the intervention drug every 6 hours as needed for pain at home. The primary outcome was pain, according to the Faces Pain Scale – Revised, for the first dose. Secondary outcomes included additional analgesic requirements, adverse effects, unplanned health care visits and pain scores for doses 2 to 8.


We analyzed data for 77 participants in each of the morphine and ibuprofen groups. Both interventions decreased pain scores with no difference in efficacy. The median difference in pain score before and after the first dose of medication was 1 (interquartile range 0–1) for both morphine and ibuprofen (p = 0.2). For doses 2 to 8, the median differences in pain score before and after the dose were not significantly different between groups. Significantly more participants taking morphine reported adverse effects (45/65 [69%] v. 26/67 [39%], p < 0.001), most commonly drowsiness (31/65 [48%] v. 15/67 [22%] in the morphine and ibuprofen groups, respectively; p = 0.003).


Morphine was not superior to ibuprofen, and both drugs decreased pain with no apparent difference in efficacy. Morphine was associated with significantly more adverse effects, which suggests that ibuprofen is a better first-line option after minor surgery.

Trial registration:

ClinicalTrials.gov, no. NCT01686802.