FPIN's Help Desk Answers

Ketorolac vs. Morphine for Pain Relief After Fractures


Am Fam Physician. 2020 Apr 15;101(8):495-496.

Clinical Question

In emergency department settings, is parenteral ketorolac superior to morphine for achieving timely pain reduction in patients with acute long bone fractures?

Evidence-Based Answer

Parenteral ketorolac is as effective as parenteral morphine for short-term pain relief in patients with long bone fractures, and it results in fewer adverse effects. (Strength of Recommendation [SOR]: B, based on two randomized controlled trials [RCTs].) Ketorolac is slightly more effective than morphine for pain relief during limb motion. (SOR: B, based on a single RCT.)

Evidence Summary

An RCT (N = 148) published in 2000 compared parenteral ketorolac with parenteral morphine for pain control in patients presenting to the emergency department with long bone fractures.1 Patients 16 years and older with a limb injury and no other disqualifying factors (e.g., history of substance abuse, dementia, indigestion, peptic ulcers, renal failure, known drug hypersensitivity) were included in the study. Patients were given a loading dose of ketorolac or morphine on presentation (10 mg or 5 mg, respectively), followed by additional doses (5 mg or 2.5 mg, respectively) every five to 20 minutes. The primary outcome of pain reduction was assessed by a zero- to 10-point visual analog scale (VAS), with a score of 10 indicating maximal pain. Pain was assessed at baseline, then every five minutes for the first 30 minutes, every 30 minutes for the next 90 minutes, then once more six hours after the initial injection. Compared with ketorolac, morphine administration nonsignificantly increased the likelihood of pain reduction when the injured limb was at rest. However, ketorolac administration increased the likelihood of pain reduction when the limb was moved (hazard ratio = 1.5; 95% CI, 1.1 to 2.1). At rest, the median decrease in pain score per hour did not differ significantly between the groups (11.4 vs. 10.8; P = .5). However, with activity, the median decrease favored ketorolac (1.1 vs. 0.87; P

Address correspondence to My-Huyen Tran, MD, at my-huyen.tran@uthct.edu. Reprints are not available from the authors.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


1. Rainer TH, Jacobs P, Ng YC, et al. Cost effectiveness analysis of intravenous ketorolac and morphine for treating pain after limb injury: double blind randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2000;321(7271):1247–1251.

2. Masoumi B, Farzaneh B, Ahmadi O, et al. Effect of intravenous morphine and ketorolac on pain control in long bone fractures. Adv Biomed Res. 2017;6:91.

Help Desk Answers provides answers to questions submitted by practicing family physicians to the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN). Members of the network select questions based on their relevance to family medicine. Answers are drawn from an approved set of evidence-based resources and undergo peer review. The strength of recommendations and the level of evidence for individual studies are rated using criteria developed by the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group (https://www.cebm.net).

The complete database of evidence-based questions and answers is copyrighted by FPIN. If interested in submitting questions or writing answers for this series, go to https://www.fpin.org or email: questions@fpin.org.

This series is coordinated by John E. Delzell Jr., MD, MSPH, associate medical editor.

A collection of FPIN's Help Desk Answers published in AFP is available at https://www.aafp.org/afp/hda.



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