Glucosamine sulfate appears to have no effect on chronic low back pain from degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis

I’ve posting a blog on the effectiveness of glucosamine sulfate for osteoarthritis of the knee. In my practice, it’s never seemed to work well for arthritis or degenerative disc disease of the lower back. Now, there’s new data supporting my observation.

On its website, ABC News reported, “Glucosamine has looked like salvation to many people with joint pain,” and “statistics attest to the supplement’s widespread appeal.”

For example, a “2007 federal survey of Americans’ use of complementary and alternative medicine found that more than 6 million adults in the United States had taken glucosamine in the previous month.”

Meanwhile, a “study from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in 2004, found that among women treated at New Mexico hospitals for joint and muscle pain, 25 percent of those with osteoarthritis used glucosamine.”

Nevertheless, there have been mixed study results regarding the effectiveness of the treatment, according to the Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog. “Some studies have shown the supplement to be effective in treating some joint pain, but others show no benefit.” (You can read why in another of my blogs on the topic)

Now, research coming out of Norway reveals “that glucosamine was no different from a placebo in treating lower back pain.”

The study included 250 individuals with “chronic back pain and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis” who were randomly assigned “1,500 milligrams daily of glucosamine or an inactive placebo,” HealthDay reported .

The “patients’ pain was measured using the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire at 6 weeks, then again at 3, 6 and 12 months,” according to the paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “At the start of the … trial, patients taking glucosamine scored 9.2 on the pain scale while the patients taking placebo scored 9.7.”

Six months later, “the average score in both groups was 5.0,” MedPage Today reported.” At a year, the average score was 4.8 for glucosamine and 5.5 for placebo, but the difference remained nonsignificant.”

What’s more, “between the end of the intervention and the end of follow-up, there was … no significant difference in average disability score, lower back pain at rest and during activity, and quality of life.”

Still, pointed out the author of an accompanying editorial, “no one study settles any question,” WebMD reported.

But the supplement “did no harm,” explained lead author Philip Wilkens. “And some patients who improved while taking the supplement told him they were sure it helped them.”

I still think it’s worth a try. Just be sure to use one of the brands of Glucosamine Sulfate that have been shown to be most helpful. You can find their names here.

2 thoughts on “Glucosamine sulfate appears to have no effect on chronic low back pain from degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis

  1. Brad

    Dr Walt,
    I would suggest that the reason Glucosamine does not appear to help most or all people with degenerative chronic knee pain or back pain from disc degeneration is due to the quality of the off the shelf products they are taking. Throuhgout a 22 year Army career and then working as a Law Enforcement Officer, I too used OTC joint products for near 20 years with little or no relief for my knee and back pain. A few years ago I started taking a pharmaceutical grade Glucosamine along with pharmaceutical grade supplements and have incredible results. No more knee and back pain. The products I use are listed in page 3476 of the 2010 PDR.

  2. Dr. Walt Post author

    Brad, as I discuss in another blog (My Recommendations for Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and SAMe for Osteoarthritis, Wednesday, 1 September 2010, http://www.drwalt.com/blog/?p=2982) and as I discuss in my best-selling book, Alternative Medicine: The options, the evidence, how to make wise choices, finding quality natural medications in the U.S. (where the products are not regulated).

    However, even with a quality glucosamine sulfate (like the DONA brand I discuss in my blog, http://www.drwalt.com/blog/?p=2982) there is very little evidence for its effectiveness with low-back OA or DJD.

    Nevertheless, I definately think it is worth a try.

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