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Meta-analysis of pain and function placebo responses in pharmacological osteoarthritis trials

  • Huang, ZeYu1
  • Chen, Jing2
  • Hu, Qin Sheng1
  • Huang, Qiang1
  • Ma, Jun1
  • Pei, Fu Xing1
  • Shen, Bin1
  • Kraus, Virginia Byers3
  • 1 Sichuan University, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, West China Hospital, West China Medical School, 37# Wainan Guoxue Road, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China , Chengdu (China)
  • 2 Sichuan University, West China School of Stomatology, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China , Chengdu (China)
  • 3 Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Room 51-205, Carmichael Building, 300 N Duke St., Durham, NC, 27701-2047, USA , Durham (United States)
Published Article
Arthritis Research & Therapy
Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Publication Date
Jul 15, 2019
DOI: 10.1186/s13075-019-1951-6
Springer Nature


ObjectiveTo evaluate contextual effects in the form of placebo responses (PRs) for patient-reported pain and function and objectively measured function in osteoarthritis (OA) clinical trials.MethodsTwo authors independently searched major electronic databases from inception to 20 May 2019. Included studies were randomized, placebo-controlled OA trials of pharmacological agents reporting both patient-reported and objectively measured outcomes. PRs for each type of outcome measure were compared by standardized mean differences (SMDs). The placebo response ratio (PRR) assessed the placebo to treatment effect size. The effect sizes of PRs and PRRs were pooled using a random effects model.ResultsTwenty-one trials met the inclusion criteria; 20 were double-blinded with one not reporting on blinding status. Compared with patients’ self-reported outcome (PRO) pain, PRs were significantly lower for PRO function (SMD − 0.16 [95% CI = − 0.28, − 0.05], p = 0.006), objectively measured muscle strength (SMD − 0.34 [95% CI − 0.58, − 0.10], p = 0.006), and range of motion (SMD = − 0.31 [95% CI = − 0.54, − 0.08], p = 0.008) function. Generally, PRs for function outcomes (patient-reported and objectively measured) were similar. The overall PRR for different measures ranged from the smallest (most favorable) for walking time/distance (0.30, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.43) to the largest for PRO pain (0.44, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.65).ConclusionFunction measures both subjective and objective had less contextual effects than pain measures in OA trials. Our results support the OMERACT-OARSI recommendations to include measures of physical function in all clinical trials of hip and knee OA and suggest that a greater use of function measures might enhance the success rates of pharmacological OA trials. Increasing the availability of mobile health apps should facilitate the acquisition of measured function data.

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