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Papers of the Week

Papers: 17 Jun 2023 - 23 Jun 2023

Clinical, Commentary/Perspective

Human Studies

2023 Jun 14

J Pain


Covariate adjustment in chronic pain trials: An oft-missed opportunity.


Langford DJ, Sharma S, McDermott MP, Beeram A, Besherat S, France FO, Mark R, Park M, Nishtar M, Turk DC, Dworkin RH, Gewandter JS


Self-reported pain intensity, frequently used as an outcome in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) of chronic pain, is often highly variable and could be associated with multiple baseline factors. Thus, the assay sensitivity of pain trials (i.e., the ability of the trial to detect a true treatment effect) could be improved by including pre-specified baseline factors in the primary statistical model. The objective of this focus article was to characterize the baseline factors included in statistical analyses of chronic pain RCTs. Seventy-three RCTs published between 2016 and 2021 that investigated interventions for chronic pain were included. The majority of trials identified a single primary analysis (72.6%; n=53). Of these, 60.4% (n=32) included one or more covariates in the primary statistical model, most commonly baseline value of the primary outcome, study site, sex, and age. Only one of the trials reported information regarding associations between covariates and outcomes (i.e., information that could inform prioritization of covariates for pre-specification in future analyses). These findings demonstrate inconsistent use of covariates in the statistical models in chronic pain clinical trials. Pre-specified adjustment for baseline covariates that could increase precision, and assay sensitivity, should be considered in future clinical trials of chronic pain treatments. PERSPECTIVE: This review demonstrates inconsistent inclusion and potential underutilization of covariate adjustment in analyses of chronic pain RCTs. This article highlights areas for possible improvement in design and reporting related to covariate adjustment to improve efficiency in future RCTs.