3 Herbal Medicines May Ease Back Pain
But Limited Evidence Prompts Researchers to Call for Further Studies
WebMD News Archive
April 18, 2006 -- The herbal medicines devil's claw, white willow bark, and
cayenne might reduce back pain, according
to a new research review.
But the review's authors aren't recommending those herbal remedies. Instead,
they say more work is needed to sort out the risks and benefits of the herbal
The review was conducted by researchers including Joel Gagnier, ND, of
Canada's Provincial Medical Centre in Windsor, Ontario. Gagnier and colleagues
reviewed 10 studies with a combined total of 1,567 adults with acute, subacute,
or chronic low-back pain.
Those studies were done by various research teams. Gagnier and colleagues
checked those studies' methods and results, publishing the findings in The
The review showed that standardized daily doses of 50 milligrams or 100
milligrams of devil's claw, taken orally, seemed to reduce back pain more than
fake pills (placebo).
A 60-milligram daily dose of devil's claw also appeared to cut back pain as
much as a 12.5-milligram daily dose of Vioxx, a painkiller no longer on the
market due to a rise in the risk of cardiovascular events -- such as heart
attack and stroke -- in some
Daily oral doses of white willow bark -- at 120 milligrams or 240 milligrams
of white willow bark's active ingredient, salicin -- were also found to reduce
back pain more than a placebo, the review shows.
Cayenne, tested as a plaster applied to the skin, appeared to reduce back
pain more than placebo. Cayenne plasters also equaled -- but didn't surpass --
results for a homeopathic gel.
Quality of Studies
Gagnier and colleagues call the evidence for devil's claw "strong,"
compared to "moderate" evidence for willow bark and cayenne
However, the review also expresses concern about the quality of some of the
studies. Gagnier's team also found possible conflicts of interest in six of the
studies, which may have biased those studies' results.
All of the studies were short, lasting up to six weeks, so they don't show
long-term results. Additional high-quality studies are needed, Gagnier and
colleagues write, adding that herbal medicines can vary in preparation and
Meanwhile, the web site of the National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) offers this general advice for people considering
any type of supplement:
- Talk to your doctor first.
- If you're already taking a supplement, tell your doctor.
- Know that over-the-counter herbal remedies aren't regulated like
prescription drugs and that some herbal medicines may interact with other
medicines or have harmful side effects.