Study finds that glucosamine is as good as placebo for chronic lower back pain


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Many people who suffer with lower back pain rely on glucosamine supplements for some relief. But does the stuff really work? A new study shows that glucosamine was no different from a placebo in treating lower back pain.

The study, released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., was a large, double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial that included 250 adults with chronic lower back pain. It was conducted at the Oslo University Outpatient Clinic in Norway.


Chronic lower back pain plagues millions of people in the U.S., and treatments include physical therapy, medication and the use of glucosamine supplements. Glucosamine is naturally produced by the body and is found in healthy cartilage. Glucosamine supplements (usually combined with chondroitin) are typically taken for the pain and discomfort that accompanies osteoarthritis, because they are thought to restore cartilage and reduce inflammation.

Some studies have shown the supplement to be effective in treating some joint pain, but others show no benefit.

Among the participants in this study, half were randomly assigned to take 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine for six months, while the other half took a placebo for the same amount of time.

The participants were assessed at the beginning of the study and again at six weeks, three months, six months and one year. They were allowed to continue with their usual pain medication and therapies.

After six months, the test subjects were asked to rate their pain on a 24-point scale. At the beginning of the study, the glucosamine group’s pain score was 9.2 on average, and the placebo group’s was 9.7. After six months, pain decreased -- but by the same amount in both groups. The glucosamine and placebo groups’ pain scores were both 5.0. At one year, the glucosamine group’s score was 4.8, while the placebo group’s was 5.5. In both groups, about the same number of people continued to use analgesics and therapies during the trial.

Based on these results, the study authors concluded that recommending glucosamine to people with lower back pain wouldn’t be a good idea. However, they added that more research is needed to see if glucosamine might work for some people with chronic lower back pain.


-- Jeannine Stein