Glucosamine No Help for Low Back Pain
Popular Supplement Fails to Help Low Back Pain in Clinical Trial
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Glucosamine for Low Back Pain: Worth a Try? continued...
"I know the researchers had to include some patients who had some degenerative joint issues in the back, but low back pain is a very broad kind of term. There can be a lot of reasons people experience it," Shao tells WebMD. "It is a tall order for something to affect such a global condition."
Shao says it would be premature to conclude that glucosamine has no benefit for any patients with spinal osteoarthritis. But that's pretty much the take-home message from the study, Avins suggests.
"No one study settles any question, but this study does not make glucosamine look promising for low back pain at this point," Avins tells WebMD.
Wilkens says that although his study found glucosamine had no effect on chronic low back pain, it did no harm. And some patients who improved while taking the supplement told him they were sure it helped them.
"If as an individual you feel glucosamine is the drug for you, there is no harm in taking it except for the expense," he says. "If you want to try, go ahead -- but I would not rely on it as the sole means of reducing your low back ache."
Might there be a subgroup of patients for whom glucosamine truly does help low back pain? Wilkens says that his team was unable to identify such patients based on pre-treatment MRI scans or on demographic factors.
But Shao notes that no MRI scans were taken after treatment, so there's no way to know whether patients' osteoarthritis had begun to improve while on treatment.
Avins laments that while low back pain is a huge health problem, it gets scant research attention.
"We will spend $100 billion this year on treatments related to low back pain, and most don't work," Avins says. "We spend such a tiny, tiny fraction of this on looking into the kinds of treatments that might give us the benefits we seek. It is frustrating."
The Wilkens study, and the Avins editorial, appear in the July 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neither reports any financial conflicts of interest, and the Wilkens study received no industry support. Study medication was purchased after all companies with glucosamine marketing approval in Norway were asked if they wanted to contribute their products.