Effects of open-label placebo on pain, functional disability, and spine mobility in patients with chronic back pain: a randomized controlled trial
PainSci commentary on Kleine-Borgmann 2019: ?This page is one of thousands in the PainScience.com bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.
This trial reported that prescribing a placebo for back pain was more helpful than typical care. And this placebo was not just any placebo, but an "open-label" placebo: the patients were told that they were receiving a placebo.
Three years later, the same research group reported that the benefits were not sustained (Kleine-Borgmann), in contrast to Carvalho. The authors consider some possible explanations for the discrepancy.
~ Paul Ingraham
original abstract †Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.
Chronic back pain (CBP) is a major global health problem, while its treatment is hampered by a lack of efficacy and restricted safety profile of common frontline therapies. The present trial aims to determine whether a 3-week open-label placebo treatment reduces pain intensity and subjective and objective functional disability in patients with CBP. This randomized controlled trial, following a pretest-posttest design, enrolled 127 patients with CBP (pain duration>12 weeks) from the Back Pain Center, Neurology, University Hospital Essen, Germany. Patients randomized to the open-label placebo group received a 3-week open-label placebo treatment. Patients in the treatment as usual (TAU) group received no intervention. Both groups continued TAU. Primary outcome was the change in pain intensity. Secondary outcomes included patient-reported functional disability and objective measures of spine mobility and depression, anxiety, and stress. One hundred twenty two patients with CBP were randomized to the open-label placebo group (N = 63) or TAU group (N = 59). Open-label placebo application led to a larger reduction of pain intensity (-0.62 ± 0.23 vs 0.11 ± 0.17, all M ± SE, P = 0.001, d = -0.44) as well as patient-reported functional disability (3.21 ± 1.59 vs 0.65 ± 1.15, P = 0.020, d = -0.45) and depression scores (-1.07 ± 0.55 vs 0.37 ± 0.39, P = 0.010, d = -0.50) compared with TAU only. Open-label placebo treatment did not affect objective mobility parameters, anxiety and stress. Our study demonstrates that a 3-week open-label placebo treatment is safe, well tolerated and reduces pain, disability, and depressive symptoms in CBP. Trial registration: German Clinical Trials Register, DRKS00012712.
- “No long-term effects after a three-week open-label placebo treatment for chronic low back pain: a three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial,” Kleine-Borgmann et al, Pain, 2022.
- “Open-label placebo for chronic low back pain: a 5-year follow-up,” Carvalho et al, Pain, 2021.
This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:
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- Characteristics of patients with low back and leg pain seeking treatment in primary care: baseline results from the ATLAS cohort study. Konstantinou 2015 BMC Musculoskelet Disord.
- Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of universal school-based mindfulness training compared with normal school provision in reducing risk of mental health problems and promoting well-being in adolescence: the MYRIAD cluster randomised controlled trial. Kuyken 2022 Evid Based Ment Health.
- No long-term effects after a three-week open-label placebo treatment for chronic low back pain: a three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Kleine-Borgmann 2022 Pain.