Background: The relative efficacy of available treatments of knee osteoarthritis (OA) must be determined for rational treatment algorithms to be formulated.
Purpose: To examine the efficacy of treatments of primary knee OA using a network meta-analysis design, which estimates relative effects of all treatments against each other.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, Google Scholar, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception through 15 August 2014, and unpublished data.
Study selection: Randomized trials of adults with knee OA comparing 2 or more of the following: acetaminophen, diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, intra-articular (IA) corticosteroids, IA hyaluronic acid, oral placebo, and IA placebo.
Data extraction: Two reviewers independently abstracted study data and assessed study quality. Standardized mean differences were calculated for pain, function, and stiffness at 3-month follow-up.
Data synthesis: Network meta-analysis was performed using a Bayesian random-effects model; 137 studies comprising 33,243 participants were identified. For pain, all interventions significantly outperformed oral placebo, with effect sizes from 0.63 (95% credible interval [CrI], 0.39 to 0.88) for the most efficacious treatment (hyaluronic acid) to 0.18 (CrI, 0.04 to 0.33) for the least efficacious treatment (acetaminophen). For function, all interventions except IA corticosteroids were significantly superior to oral placebo. For stiffness, most of the treatments did not significantly differ from one another.
Limitation: Lack of long-term data, inadequate reporting of safety data, possible publication bias, and few head-to-head comparisons.
Conclusion: This method allowed comparison of common treatments of knee OA according to their relative efficacy. Intra-articular treatments were superior to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, possibly because of the integrated IA placebo effect. Small but robust differences were observed between active treatments. All treatments except acetaminophen showed clinically significant improvement from baseline pain. This information, along with the safety profiles and relative costs of included treatments, will be helpful for individualized patient care decisions.
Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.