Background: Wearable long-duration low-intensity ultrasound is an emerging non-invasive and non-narcotic therapy for the daily treatment of musculoskeletal pain. The aim of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was to examine whether long-duration low-intensity ultrasound was effective in treating pain and improving function in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
Methods: Ninety patients with moderate to severe knee pain and radiographically confirmed knee osteoarthritis (Kellgren-Lawrence grade I/II) were randomized for treatment with active (n = 55) or placebo (n = 35) devices applied daily to the treated knee. Investigators and subjects were blinded to treatment groups. Ultrasound (3 MHz, 0.132 W/cm2, 1.3 W) was applied with a wearable device for 4 h daily for 6 weeks, delivering 18,720 J per treatment. The primary outcome was change in pain intensity (numeric rating scale) assessed prior to intervention (baseline) and after 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes of functional change were measured at baseline and after 6 weeks using the Western Ontario McMaster Osteoarthritis Questionnaire (n = 84), along with range of motion (flexion, extension) and isometric muscle strength (flexion, extension and rotation) tests on the injured knee in a small pilot subset (n = 17).
Results: The study had a 93% retention rate, and there were no significant differences between the groups regarding demographic variables or baseline outcome measures. Patients treated with active therapy observed a significant mean NRS pain reduction over the 6-week study of 1.96 points for active (p < 0.0001), compared with a 0.85 points reduction for placebo (p = 0.13). The functional score was also significantly improved by 505 points for the active group over the 311-point improvement for placebo group compared to baseline (p = 0.02). In the pilot subset evaluated, rotational strength increased from baseline to 6 weeks (3.2 N, p = 0.03); however, no other measures were significant.
Conclusions: Long-duration low-intensity ultrasound significantly reduced pain and improved joint function in patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis knee pain. The clinical findings suggest that ultrasound may be used as a conservative non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive treatment option for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Additional research is warranted on non-weight bearing joints of the musculoskeletal system as well as extended treatment time frames and follow-up.
Trial registration: NCT02083861, registered 11 March 2014, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/results/NCT02083861.
Keywords: Knee; Long duration; Low-intensity ultrasound; Musculoskeletal; Osteoarthritis; Pain; Sustained acoustic medicine.