"Managing" the Placebo effect: The single-blind placebo lead-in response in two pain models

R. Norman Harden*, Meryem Saracoglu, Sara Connolly, Amy Kirsling, Kelly Comstock, Katherine Khazey, Trevor Gerson, John Burns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective. "Placebo effects" in analgesic medication trials for chronic pain are pervasive; however, little is known regarding mechanisms or factors that may influence the presence or magnitude of these effects. Our objective is to consider elements of the placebo response in the context of two pain models using a "single-blind placebo lead-in" design (SBPLI). Methods. As part of two pilot drug trials using knee osteoarthritis (KOA) and non-radicular low back pain (LBP) subjects, SBPLI protocols were conducted. We examined whether gender and/or diagnosis affected placebo responses as observed in changes in patient self-reported pain, depressive and pain anxiety symptoms. We also evaluated the placebo response on performance-based tests (stair climbing, range of motion (ROM), sit to stand repetitions, and 6-minute treadmill distance). Results. VAS Pain Intensity (Now) values decreased significantly during the SBPLI for the sample as a whole, but the effects appeared stronger among LBP subjects. CES-D short form values (depressive symptoms) did not decrease significantly during the SBPLI for the sample as a whole, but some placebo effects appeared to emerge for women in the KOA group. PASS values (pain anxiety symptoms) decreased significantly, albeit mildly, during the SBPLI for the sample as a whole. Stair Climb (time) revealed no significant SBPLI effects. Bend Forward to Floor (ROM) increased significantly at the end of the SBPLI period for the sample as a whole, but the effects appeared stronger among KOA subjects. Sit to Stand Repetitions increased during the SBPLI for the sample as a whole. Treadmill Distance did not change significantly from Visit 1 to Visit 2; however, a significant Sex difference for the KOA group was found such that women showed greater Treadmill Distance at Visit 2. Conclusion. Placebo effects emerged across psychometric and performance-based measures, indicating the pervasiveness of this phenomenon. In this design, diagnostic and (to a lesser extent) gender categories differentials were observed during the placebo period. The SBPLI design may prove not only a robust method in studying the placebo phenomena, but also as a design element to mitigate some aspects of the placebo response in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2305-2310
Number of pages6
JournalPain Medicine (United States)
Volume17
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Keywords

  • Chronic Low Back Pain
  • Osteoarthritis Pain
  • Pain Modules
  • Placebo
  • Single-Blind Placebo Lead-In

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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