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A randomised controlled trial of subcutaneous sodium salicylate therapy for osteoarthritis of the thumb


Background Current treatment for osteoarthritis (OA) is limited. Many patients with OA of the hand have areas of tender subcutaneous thickening in the forearm and upper scapular region. A pilot study showed an improvement in pain from OA at the first carpometacarpal joint after injection of such areas with 0.5% sodium salicylate or saline, an inexpensive treatment that can be administered by general practitioners and nurses. The study indicated that a randomised, sham-controlled trial was justified.

Methods 40 patients with OA of the first carpometacarpal joint were randomised to receive either injections of sodium salicylate into tender, thickened areas of subcutaneous tissue on the forearm (baseline) and upper scapular region (week 1) or sham injections consisting of pressure without skin penetration. Blinded assessments were made at weeks 3, 7 and 13 after baseline.

Results Pain and tenderness during follow-up were both significantly lower in the active treatment group compared with the sham group: 19% and 14% greater reduction in mean visual analogue scale (VAS) score, respectively (p=0.007 and 0.02, baseline mean 5.65 and 5.35 cm, average difference in change from baseline VAS 1.9 and 1.4 cm, 95% CI 0.6 to 3.2 and 0.2 to 2.5). Active and sham injections were painful, the former significantly more so; however, there was no significant correlation between the pain of active injections and response.

Conclusion The data show that subcutaneous sodium salicylate injections are an effective symptomatic treatment for OA of the thumb. The results provide a basis for further physiological and therapeutic research in this area.

  • Osteoarthritis
  • pain
  • hand joint
  • rheumatic patch
  • sodium salicylate
  • rheumatology

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