Background: Acupuncture is a popular non-pharmacological modality for treating musculoskeletal pain. Physiotherapists are one of the largest groups of acupuncture providers within the NHS, and they commonly use it alongside advice and exercise. Conclusive evidence of acupuncture's clinical effectiveness and its superiority over sham interventions is lacking. The Arthritis Research Campaign (arc) has funded this randomised sham-controlled trial which addresses three important questions. Firstly, we will determine the additional benefit of true acupuncture when used by physiotherapists alongside advice and exercise for older people presenting to primary care with knee pain. Secondly, we will evaluate sham acupuncture in the same way. Thirdly, we will investigate the treatment preferences and expectations of both the participants and physiotherapists participating in the study, and explore the effect of these on clinical outcome. We will thus investigate whether acupuncture is a useful adjunct to advice and exercise for treating knee pain and gain insight into whether this effect is due to specific needling properties.
Methods/design: This randomised clinical trial will recruit 350 participants with knee pain to three intervention arms. It is based in 43 community physiotherapy departments in 21 NHS Trusts in the West Midlands and Cheshire regions in England. Patients aged 50 years and over with knee pain will be recruited. Outcome data will be collected by self-complete questionnaires before randomisation, and 6 weeks, 6 months and 12 months after randomisation and by telephone interview 2 weeks after treatment commences. The questionnaires collect demographic details as well as information on knee-related pain, movement and function, pain intensity and affect, main functional problem, illness perceptions, self-efficacy, treatment preference and expectations, general health and quality of life. Participants are randomised to receive a package of advice and exercise; or this package plus real acupuncture; or this package plus sham acupuncture. Treatment details are being collected on a standard proforma. Interventions are delivered by experienced physiotherapists who have all received training in acupuncture to recognised national standards. The primary analysis will investigate the main treatment effects of real or sham acupuncture as an adjunct to advice and exercise.
Discussion: This paper presents detail on the rationale, design, methods, and operational aspects of the trial.