A study published in Arthritis Care & Research analyzes the use of mud baths versus standard treatment as a way to help reduce pain and improve function in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

According to the study, a single cycle of mud bath therapy (MBT) not only helped reduce pain and improve function, it was also cost-effective—saving about €672 (approximately $730) in healthcare costs per patient annually with a gain of 0.08 quality-adjusted life years, per a release from Arthritis Care & Research.

“These findings support a positive recommendation for the use of mud-bath therapy as short-term complementary therapy in the management of knee OA,” lead author Oriana Ciani, PhD, of the University of Exeter, England, says in the release.

The study included 103 participants with bilateral knee OA, all of whom received standard are that included exercise, intermittent courses of symptomatic slow-acting drug for OA, or intra-articular hyaluronic acid.

All of the participants were assigned to either the control or treatment group. The control group received the standard care, and nothing more. The treatment group, however, received the standard care plus 12 applications of daily mud packs combined with hot mineral baths over a 2-week period.

During the study period, the participants were given diaries, where they documented not only their use of drug treatments, but also laboratory and imaging tests, visits to general practitioners and specialists, and use of physical therapies and devices, per the release.

After studying the participants’ diaries, the researchers note that the average 12-month cost in the MBT group was €303 ($330) versus €975 ($1,060) with usual care (P<0.001). Costs were lower with MBT in nearly every category; the two most significant were intra-articular hyaluronic acid injection (€257 lower) and hospitalization (€244 lower).

Subjects receiving the mud baths also had better outcomes on the quality-adjusted life years (QUALY), a metric that combines expected length of life and quality of life. Overall, patients receiving mud-bath treatments accrued on average 0.835 QUALY during the study period whereas average QUALY in the control group was 0.753 (P<0.001), the release explains.

However, the researchers note that, post-study, the beneficial effect of mud baths waned quickly. The patients’ quality of life scores peaked at the end of the 2-week MBT treatment period, but by the end of follow-up, they were only slightly better than those recorded from participants in the control group.

Physical therapist John Garzione, PT, DPT, notes in the release that the study “”brought up many interesting findings” related to the use of mud baths in knee OA, but “I don’t think this is really new.” Other heat-based therapies are available at a potentially less cost, he adds.

“I would hope that the authors would repeat the study, with the same subjects, to see if repeated mud-bath/mineral bath treatments would have the same effect again after being off the treatment for 9 months,” Garzione states.

[Source: Arthritis Care & Research, MedPage Today]