brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(11):online

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

Clinical Question

Are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) effective in the treatment of postpartum perineal pain?

Evidence-Based Answer

Women with third- or fourth-degree perineal lacerations or who received an episiotomy can be given oral NSAIDs to reduce perineal pain in the first six hours postpartum. (Strength of Recommendation [SOR]: B, based on a meta-analysis of low-quality randomized controlled trials [RCTs].) Women who received an episiotomy may have a reduction in postpartum pain scores after receiving NSAID rectal suppositories and are less likely to request more analgesia. (SOR: B, based on a meta-analysis of heterogeneous RCTs and a small international RCT.)

Evidence Summary

A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis (28 RCTs; N = 4,181) of nonbreastfeeding women with third- or fourth-degree perineal lacerations or episiotomy during vaginal delivery compared single-dose oral NSAIDs with placebo for the treatment of perineal pain.1 Fourteen different NSAIDs were evaluated; aspirin (500 to 650 mg), ibuprofen (300 to 800 mg), and meclofenamate (100 to 200 mg) were the most commonly used. Pain was assessed by patient report at four and six hours postpartum using various nonstandardized methods. Women receiving an NSAID were more likely to achieve at least a 50% reduction of pain at four hours after delivery (10 studies; N = 1,573; relative risk [RR] = 1.9; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.6 to 2.2) and at six hours (17 studies; N = 2,079; RR = 1.9; 95% CI, 1.7 to 2.2) than women receiving placebo. Women who received an NSAID were also less likely to need additional analgesia at four hours after initial administration (four studies; N = 486; RR = 0.39; 95% CI, 0.26 to 0.58) and at six hours (10 studies; N = 1,012; RR = 0.32; 95% CI, 0.26 to 0.40). There were no statistical differences between NSAID type or dosage. At six hours, there was no difference in overall maternal adverse effects (13 studies; N = 1,388; RR = 1.4; 95% CI, 0.71 to 2.7). None of the studies assessed neonatal adverse effects. The individual studies were of low or very low quality because of lack of standardization, and they generally took place in the 1980s, when episiotomy was more common.

A 2003 systematic review (two RCTs; N = 150) compared NSAID rectal suppositories (indomethacin, diclofenac, and naproxen) with placebo for relief of perineal pain after episiotomy.2 One of the RCTs also included women with second-degree perineal lacerations. Both trials reported perineal pain at 24 hours after delivery. There was significant heterogeneity between the studies. Women receiving NSAID suppositories were less likely to need additional analgesia at 24 hours postpartum (one study; n = 89; RR = 0.31; 95% CI, 0.17 to 0.54) and at 48 hours (one study; n = 89; RR = 0.63; 95% CI, 0.45 to 0.89). Adverse effects were not reported.

A 2008 double-blind RCT of 142 patients in Thailand evaluated naproxen rectal suppositories vs. placebo for reducing perineal pain after vaginal delivery with mediolateral episiotomy.3 Patients received an initial 275-mg naproxen suppository or placebo immediately after completion of perineal suturing, then a second dose was given six hours later. Pain was evaluated using the validated Thai short-form McGill Pain Questionnaire (total score of 0 to 45 points, with higher numbers signifying more pain). Women receiving naproxen suppositories reported less perineal pain at six hours postpartum compared with those in the placebo group (6.4 vs. 18 points; P < .001) and at 24 hours (2.3 vs. 5.5 points; P < .001). No adverse effects were noted.

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 (

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 or email:

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

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2018 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.