Glucosamine Supplements Won’t Help Back Pain, Study Finds

A new study out of Norway has revealed that taking <"">glucosamine—a supplement often used in the treatment of back pain—offers no more benefit than taking a placebo for lower back pain, said Reuters.

Glucosamine, said the Washington Post, is a dietary supplement commonly taken for the treatment of arthritis and relieves back pain by restoring cartilage and minimizing swelling. CNN explained glucosamine is found in healthy cartilage.

According to the researchers, glucosamine did not offer any significant benefits over a placebo for patients who suffered from back pain as a result of degenerative arthritis, urging doctors to avoid recommending the treatment to their patients, said Reuters. Reuters noted that studies on the supplement have resulted in mixed findings with some studies revealing benefits to some patients, for instance those suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee and hip.

The research team, led by Philip Wilkens of Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo, conducted a randomized clinical trial, considered the most rigorous, to determine the effect of glucosamine in a group of 250 participants who were over the age of 25 and who suffered from chronic lower back pain, said Reuters. According to CNN, the patients were also diagnosed with degenerative discs.

The Washington Post described the study—the first of its kind—as large and long-term. The participants, who received either 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine or a placebo daily for six months, were reviewed at six months and one year via pain and disability questionnaires.

No statistically significant differences in scoring were revealed between the two groups, wrote Reuters. “Based on our results, it seems unwise to recommend glucosamine to all patients with chronic lumbar pain and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis,” Wilkens and colleagues wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, quoted Reuters. Wilkens, who is also a research fellow at Oslo University Hospital, said, “glucosamine is not going to help the patient better than the placebo … in terms of chronic low back pain,” quoted CNN.

Dr. Andrew Avins of Northern California Kaiser-Permanente in Oakland, California, wrote in a commentary that because of the respect associated with the study, the likeliest explanation is that “glucosamine probably offers little benefit for chronic low back pain with osteoarthritis beyond whatever placebo effect it may provide,” quoted Reuters.

Dr. John Markman, a pain specialist from the University of Rochester Medical Center, considered the study an impediment because the supplement “is inexpensive and has few side effects, compared to other treatments,” wrote Reuters. Dr. Markman noted that most Americans—some 80 percent—will experience back pain at some point in their lifetimes at a cost of about $16 billion annually. According to CNN, the figure is closer to $50 billion each year, noting that back pain is among the top reasons people miss work.

Dr. Scott D. Boden, director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center says that while the study outcome is not surprising, he feels “there may certain subgroups of low back pain sufferers who may be responsive to the drug,” quoted CNN.

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