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Depression medication could help knee osteoarthritis

Published on 23 December 2015

A hand holding tabletsResearchers at our pain centre are recruiting people to take part in a clinical trial to determine whether duloxetine, a drug normally used to help people with anxiety or depression, can also be effective against the pain of knee osteoarthritis.

Current treatments for tackling osteoarthritis are limited. If results from the trial are positive, it could provide a new treatment option for millions of people living with chronic knee pain.

Diane Reckziegel, from The University of Nottingham and chief investigator for the study, said: “Duloxetine has already been shown to be effective in relieving different types of chronic pain. However, what we don’t know is how this drug works to reduce pain, and to whom it may be more useful."

Understanding the mechanisms of pain relief

Before taking the medication patients will undergo MRI scans of their brain. The study will help shed light on how patients experience pain.

After the six-week course of medication they'll return for another MRI scan and the effects of the medication will be assessed through questionnaires, imaging and sensory tests. 

Diane Reckziegel added: “By comparing the brains of patients with osteoarthritis before and after the treatment we hope to achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms of pain relief. This will help us select patients who might benefit more from duloxetine treatment.”

Stephen Simpson, our director of research and programmes, said: "Trials of existing drugs which may also be effective for osteoarthritis have the potential to help some of the millions of people living with chronic knee pain.

"Since duloxetine is already in the marketplace, if it is proven to be beneficial in osteoarthritis then it could help patients by reducing pain and potentially delaying the need for invasive procedures."

Patient experience

One patient who's already taking part in the trial is 64-year-old Catherine Parnaby from Keyworth. The retired school supervisor was diagnosed with osteoarthritis eight years ago

Catherine said: "My knees get very painful, even painkillers don't work at times. I joined the trial after receiving a letter from my GP and wanted to see if a different approach would help my pain."

Participants in the study are split into two groups. Catherine was unaware whether she was taking duloxetine or a dummy treatment known as a placebo, but after the trial she was told that she was on duloxetine.

Catherine said: "During the trial my pain went away. I was able to swim further and walk quicker, and the tablets I took were much better than the painkillers I'd been taking.

"I really hope this trial makes a difference and duloxetine becomes a recognised treatment for osteoarthritis because it helped me.”

The Arthritis Research UK Pain Centre is a partnership between Nottingham University Hospitals, The University of Nottingham and us. It's hosted at Nottingham City Hospital and was established over five years ago to investigate the mechanisms that lead to the chronic pain experienced by sufferers of arthritis and improve the treatment of arthritic pain.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.