Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Back Pain Health Center

Font Size

Glucosamine No Help for Low Back Pain

Popular Supplement Fails to Help Low Back Pain in Clinical Trial
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 6, 2010 -- The popular supplement glucosamine doesn't help people who have low back pain, a clinical trial finds.

The study looked specifically at 250 people with evidence of osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine. All of the patients had at least some disability because of low back pain, but most were still able to work.

For six months, half the patients got 1,500-milligram daily doses of glucosamine sulfate and half got inactive placebo pills, notes study leader Philip Wilkens, MChiro, a research fellow at Norway's Oslo University.

"There was no benefit of glucosamine compared to placebo," Wilkens tells WebMD. "You would get the same result from taking sugar pills as taking the real deal."

On average, patients in both the glucosamine and placebo groups had less back pain and less disability after six months of treatment, and for six months after the end of the study.

Why did both groups improve? Part of the improvement is the placebo effect. That's the natural tendency of people to feel better when they believe they are being treated. But part of the reason is that patients come to treatment, and to clinical trials, when their condition is at its worst.

"People feel worse when they volunteer. That is a bad period, and it is usually followed by a good period. It's sort of a natural development of the condition of low back pain," Wilkens says.

Glucosamine for Low Back Pain: Worth a Try?

In osteoarthritis, cartilage in the joints degenerates. Glucosamine is a building block for the molecules from which cartilage is made. The theory behind glucosamine supplements is that taking them will slow or reverse cartilage degeneration.

It's a popular theory. According to the supplement industry group Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), 7% of Americans take glucosamine and/or chondroitin, a component of cartilage usually derived from animal or fish cartilage.

And in an editorial accompanying the Wilkens study, Kaiser-Permanente researcher Andrew Avins, MD, MPH, notes that 25% of people with low back pain have tried glucosamine supplements.

Even so, glucosamine is usually taken for knee osteoarthritis, says Andrew Shao, PhD, CRN senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs. Shao notes that low back pain can be caused by a number of things besides osteoarthritis.

Today on WebMD

Woman holding lower back
Or is it another form of back pain?
Hand on back
See the myths vs. the facts.
Woman doing pilates
Good and bad exercises.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Use it to manage your pain.
Man with enhanced spinal column, rear view
pain in brain and nerves
Chronic Pain Healtcheck
Health Check
break at desk
Woman holding lower back
Weight Loss Surgery
lumbar spine
back pain