Plantar fasciitis (PF) is a chronic degenerative condition causing marked thickening and fibrosis of the plantar fascia, and collagen necrosis, chondroid metaplasia and calcification. There is little convincing evidence in support of various approaches, including homeopathy, for treating PF. This study was undertaken to examine the efficacy of individualized homeopathic medicines (IHMs) compared with placebo in the treatment of PF.
This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted at the outpatient departments of Mahesh Bhattacharyya Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital, West Bengal, India. Patients were randomized to receive either IHMs or identical-looking placebo in the mutual context of conservative non-medicinal management. The Foot Function Index (FFI) questionnaire, as an outcome measure, was administered at baseline, and every month, up to 3 months. Group differences (unpaired t-tests) and effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were calculated on an intention-to-treat sample. The sample was analyzed statistically after adjusting for baseline differences.
The target sample size was 128; however, only 75 could be enrolled (IHMs: 37; Placebo: 38). Attrition rate was 9.3% (IHMs: 4, Placebo: 3). Differences between groups in total FFI% score favored IHMs against placebo at all the time points, with large effect sizes: month 1 (mean difference, -10.0; 95% confidence interval [CI], -15.7 to -4.2; p = 0.001; d = 0.8); month 2 (mean difference, -14.3; 95% CI, -20.4 to -8.2; p <0.001; d = 1.1); and month 3 (mean difference, -23.3; 95% CI, -30.5 to -16.2; p <0.001; d = 1.5). Similar significant results were also observed on three FFI sub-scales (pain%, disability%, and activity limitation%). Natrum muriaticum (n = 14; 18.7%) and Rhus toxicodendron and Ruta graveolens (n = 11 each; 14.7%) were the most frequently prescribed medicines. No harms, serious adverse events, or intercurrent illnesses were recorded in either of the groups.
The authors concluded that IHMs acted significantly better than placebo in the treatment of PF; however, the trial being underpowered, the results should be interpreted as preliminary only. Independent replications are warranted.
It is nice to see homeopaths stress the importance of independent replication. It is less nice, however, to note their main conclusion:
IHMs acted significantly better than placebo.
This essentially is what will stick in the minds of the pro-homeopathy reader, and this is the information that will enter into future meta-analyses and systematic reviews of homeopathy. But this is also untrue! The qualifier that follows is but a lame excuse for drawing a wrong conclusion. In my view, a correct conclusion would read something like this:
Our study failed to recruit a sufficient number of patients. Therefore, no conclusions about the efficacy of IHM can be drawn from it.