This study was conducted with the aim of evaluating the efficacy of intra-articular injections of botulinum toxin type A (BT-A) into the painful joint diseases through a systematic review of the literature and a meta-analysis of controlled randomized trials. Intra-articular therapies (corticosteroids, hyaluronic acid) have limited efficacy and run a risk of toxicity in patients with joint pain. New therapeutic options are needed to treat painful osteoarticular disease.
We searched via Pubmed, American College of Rheumatology, and European League Against Rheumatism congresses, and gray literature for the studies reported until June 2016 and addressing the issue of BT intra-articular injections in patients with refractory joint pain. Randomized trials were included. For the meta-analysis, we compared a numeric rating scale (NRS) from 0 to 10 before treatment and at 1 or 2 months and 6 months after in the BT-A and the control groups for each study. We also compared separately low dose and high dose of BT at 1 or 2 months’ evaluation.
In a total of 269 selected articles, 8 were analyzed and 6 studies were included in the meta-analysis involving a total of 382 patients. On comparing the NRS rating for 5 trials, at 1 or 2 months irrespective of the dose of BT, 4 trials showed a positive effect of BT compared with the control on the NRS and 1 found no effect; the overall weighted mean difference [95% confidence interval (CI)] was −1.10 (−1.62, −0.58) (P<0.0001, I2=63%). Among the 4 trials with a low dose of BT (100 U), comparing NRS at 1 or 2 months, 3 trials showed significant results with a positive effect of BT-A injection compared with the control on the NRS; the fourth study failed to find any effect. The overall weighted mean difference (95% CI) was −0.95 (−0.02, −1.88) (P=0.05, I2=67%). In the 2 trials using a high dose of BT (200 U) comparing NRS at 1 or 2 months, there was an almost zero effect of BT, with an overall weighted mean difference (95% CI) of 0.13 (−0.55, 0.81) (P=0.71, I2=0%). In the 3 trials comparing NRS at 6 months there was an overall weighted mean difference (95% CI) of −0.57 (−1.98, 0.83) (P=0.42, I2=73%).
BT-A intra-articular injections have short-term benefits with a statistically significant decrease in the NRS pain score of around 1 point in patients with refractory joint pain. A decrease in the pain score was also observed at 6 months but with a nonsignificant result.