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BACKGROUND: Arthroscopic subacromial decompression (ASAD) is a commonly performed surgical intervention for shoulder pain. The rationale is that removal of a bony acromial spur relieves symptoms by decompressing rotator cuff tendons passing through the subacromial space. However, the efficacy of this procedure is uncertain. The objective of this trial was to compare the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of ASAD in patients with subacromial pain using appropriate control groups, including placebo intervention. METHODS/DESIGN: The trial is a three-group, parallel design, pragmatic, randomised controlled study. The intervention content for each group (ASAD, active monitoring with specialist reassessment (AMSR) and investigational shoulder arthroscopy only (AO)) enables assessment of (1) the efficacy of the surgery against no surgery; (2) the need for a specific component of the surgery-namely, removal of the bony spur; and (3) quantification of the placebo effect. Concealed allocation was performed using a 1:1:1 randomisation ratio and using age, sex, baseline Oxford Shoulder Score (OSS) and centre as minimisation criteria. The primary outcome measure is the OSS at 6 months post randomisation. A total of 300 patients recruited over 24 months from a minimum of 14 UK shoulder units over 24 months were required to detect a difference of 4.5 points on the OSS (standard deviation, 9) with 90% power and to allow for 15% loss to follow-up. Secondary outcomes include cost-effectiveness, pain, complications and patient satisfaction. A substantial qualitative research component is included. The primary analysis will be conducted on the modified intention-to-treat analysis. Sensitivity analysis will be used to assess the robustness of the results with regard to the underlying assumptions about missing data using multiple imputation. DISCUSSION: This trial uses an innovative design to account for the known placebo effects of surgery, but it also will delineate the mechanism for any benefit from surgery. The investigational AO group is considered a placebo intervention (not sham surgery), as it includes all components of subacromial decompression except the critical surgical element. Some discussion is also dedicated to the challenges of conducting placebo surgery trials. TRIAL REGISTRATIONS: UK Clinical Research Network UKCRN12104. Registered 22 May 2012. International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial ISRCTN33864128 . Registered 22 June 2012. NCT01623011 . Registered 15 June 2012.

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Acromion, Arthroscopy, Clinical Protocols, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Decompression, Surgical, Female, Health Care Costs, Humans, Intention to Treat Analysis, Male, Osteophyte, Pain Measurement, Patient Satisfaction, Postoperative Complications, Predictive Value of Tests, Research Design, Sample Size, Shoulder Pain, Time Factors, Treatment Outcome, United Kingdom