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Combined hormonal contraceptive use is not protective against musculoskeletal conditions or injuries: a systematic review with data from 5 million females


Objective Assess the association between combined hormonal contraceptives (CHC) use and musculoskeletal tissue pathophysiology, injuries or conditions.

Design Systematic review with semiquantitative analyses and certainty of evidence assessment, guided by the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach.

Data Sources MEDLINE, EMBASE, CENTRAL, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL searched from inception to April 2022.

Eligibility Intervention and cohort studies that assessed the association between new or ongoing use of CHC and an outcome of musculoskeletal tissue pathophysiology, injury or condition in postpubertal premenopausal females.

Results Across 50 included studies, we assessed the effect of CHC use on 30 unique musculoskeletal outcomes (75% bone related). Serious risk of bias was judged present in 82% of studies, with 52% adequately adjusting for confounding. Meta-analyses were not possible due to poor outcome reporting, and heterogeneity in estimate statistics and comparison conditions. Based on semiquantitative synthesis, there is low certainty evidence that CHC use was associated with elevated future fracture risk (risk ratio 1.02–1.20) and total knee arthroplasty (risk ratio 1.00–1.36). There is very low certainty evidence of unclear relationships between CHC use and a wide range of bone turnover and bone health outcomes. Evidence about the effect of CHC use on musculoskeletal tissues beyond bone, and the influence of CHC use in adolescence versus adulthood, is limited.

Conclusion Given a paucity of high certainty evidence that CHC use is protective against musculoskeletal pathophysiology, injury or conditions, it is premature and inappropriate to advocate, or prescribe CHC for these purposes.

PROSPERO registration number This review was registered on PROSPERO CRD42021224582 on 8 January 2021.

  • Preventive Medicine
  • Female
  • Women

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as online supplemental information.

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