Lower back pain is one of the most common (and most debilitating) maladies, sending millions of people seeking medical help each year. Depending on the cause, the main treatments include surgery, pain and anti-inflammatory medications, and supplements of glucosamine. Now it seems that back pain sufferers may have one less weapon in their arsenal.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that glucosamine worked no better than a placebo in treating lower back pain. The study, conducted at a Norwegian clinic in Oslo, was a double-blind, randomized trial using 250 adults. Half of the patients were randomly assigned to take 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine for six months, while the other half took a placebo. The patients were examined at regular intervals, and at the end of the study rated the glucosamine just as effective at reducing pain as the placebo. That is, it didn’t work.
There was some reason to hope it would. Glucosamine, which is found in healthy cartilage, is naturally produced by the body and is seen as safe and effective. It is widely used and is thought to work by reducing inflammation and restoring lost cartilage. Though the bulk of the evidence for glucosamine’s effectiveness is anecdotal, a few smaller studies suggested that patients might benefit.
Many patients prefer glucosamine because it is considered natural, though like herbal supplements and remedies, it is not marketed as a drug and therefore has not been proven to work in carefully-controlled clinical trials. Of course further studies may find an effect, but it’s important to remember that just because something is widely used (or widely believed to work) doesn’t mean that it is actually effective.