Last updated on August 2019

Saline Injections vs Education and Exercise in Knee Osteoarthritis

Brief description of study

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is a highly prevalent musculoskeletal condition mainly affecting older people, causing pain, physical disability, and reduced quality of life. Exercise and patient education are non-pharmacological interventions for knee OA unanimously recommended by leading international organisations and authorities based on extensive research that documents that exercise and education are superior to no-attention control groups.

In Denmark, an initiative to implement these recommendations was initiated in 2013. The initiative is called Good Life with osteoArthritis in Denmark (GLA:D) and aims at facilitating high quality care of patients with OA in the Danish population. The core components of the GLA:D program are 8 weeks of education (2 sessions) and supervised neuromuscular exercise delivered by GLA:D certified physiotherapists. The GLA:D concept has been exported to Canada, China and Australia.

While several randomised controlled trials have investigated exercise and education for knee OA none have used a placebo comparison group. The effect size of exercise plus education therapy is in line with the current theories that the contact with a caring clinician that believes in efficacy of the treatments he/she provides can result in beneficial health effects. In exercise and education programs (such as the GLA:D program) frequent and lengthy contacts with a physiotherapist are typically necessary. Hence, a significant proportion of the beneficial effects can be expected to be attributable to placebo or effects.

In trials of intra-articular treatment of knee OA (e.g. in trials of corticosteroids, viscosupplementation, or platelet-rich-plasma) saline injections are a commonly used as placebo comparator. While saline is recognised as a pharmacologically inert agent, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that although intra-articular saline injection is often used as a "placebo" treatment in clinical trials for knee OA it can provide substantial pain relief. The effect size of saline injections is in line with the current theories that the "invasiveness" of a procedure is an important determinant for the magnitude of placebo effects.

This trial aims to compare a widely used 8-week education plus exercise program (the GLA:D program) with 4 intra-articular saline injections as treatments of knee OA symptoms. Outcomes are taken at baseline, after 8-weeks of treatment (week 9) and after additionally 4 weeks of follow-up (week 12).

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03843931

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