Methodological differences in clinical trials evaluating nonpharmacological and pharmacological treatments of hip and knee osteoarthritis

JAMA. 2003 Aug 27;290(8):1062-70. doi: 10.1001/jama.290.8.1062.


Context: Randomized controlled trials have been developed essentially in the context of pharmacological treatments (ie, oral drugs; intra-articular injection; and topical, intramuscular, and intravenous treatments), but assessment of the effectiveness of nonpharmacological treatments (ie, surgery, arthroscopy, joint lavage, rehabilitation, acupuncture, and education) presents specific issues.

Objectives: To compare the quality of articles of nonpharmacological and pharmacological treatments of hip and knee osteoarthritis and to identify specific methodological issues related to assessment of nonpharmacological treatments.

Design and setting: We searched MEDLINE and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for articles of randomized controlled trials published between January 1, 1992, and February 28, 2002, in 28 general medical and specialty journals with high impact factors and assessing nonpharmacological and pharmacological treatments in patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis.

Main outcome measures: The quality of the methods reported in the selected articles was assessed by 2 independent reviewers using the Jadad scale, the Delphi list, and guidelines found in the Users' Guides to the Medical Literature. Investigators also used a checklist of items developed by the authors to analyze study characteristics.

Results: A total of 110 articles were included in the analysis; 50 (45.5%) assessed nonpharmacological treatments and 60 (54.5%) assessed pharmacological treatments. Reports of nonpharmacological treatments had a lower global quality score than did reports of pharmacological treatments as measured by the Jadad scale (mean [SD] score, 1.4 [1.3] vs 3.0 [1.3]) and the Delphi list (mean [SD] score, 5.2 [1.5] vs 7.5 [1.1]). Lack of reporting adequate random sequence generation and intention-to-treat analyses were found in both nonpharmacological and pharmacological articles. Nonpharmacological treatments were less often compared with a placebo than were pharmacological treatments (28.0% of articles vs 71.7%). Compared with pharmacological articles, nonpharmacological articles less often described blinding of patients (26.0% vs 96.7%), care providers (6.0% vs 81.7%), and outcome assessors (68.0% vs 98.3%). Care providers' skill levels could influence treatment effect in 84.0% of nonpharmacological articles vs 23.3% of pharmacological articles.

Conclusions: In this analysis of reports of hip and knee osteoarthritis therapy, nonpharmacological articles scored lower than pharmacological articles in terms of quality. Assessments of nonpharmacological treatments must take into consideration additional methodological issues.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies
  • Drug Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Orthopedic Procedures
  • Osteoarthritis, Hip / therapy*
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data