By Ted Swing, Ph.D
Herbal medicines have thousands of years of history in cultures around the world. Other types of supplemental medicines make use of naturally occurring chemicals and extracts. Today, these treatments remain widely used for a variety of conditions, including conditions causing chronic pain. These treatments are regarded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as dietary supplements, rather than medical treatments, which can lead people to assume that these treatments have not been studied scientifically. In fact, many types of supplements have been studied as treatments for various medical conditions. Some of these ingredients have demonstrated considerable efficacy, even in the same sort of double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trials that prescription medications are subjected to.
Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative condition of the joints that can cause chronic pain and impaired function. Osteoarthritis can cause pain and disability in many joints, including the joints of the lower back, called the facet joints. This is one of the most common causes of low back pain, particularly in middle-aged and older adults. Several supplements have been studied for the treatment of osteoarthritis. A combination of glucosamine, a natural substance found in bone marrow, and chondroitin, a component of cartilage, have been tested as a treatment for osteoarthritis in 15 studies. Overall, the results of these studies revealed a moderate to large effect in relieving osteoarthritis symptoms. A double-blind study compared the compound SAM-e to an NSAID medication. This study found that though it took longer for SAM-e to take effect, it proved as effective as the NSAID medication.
At least two herbal supplements have also been studied for relief of osteoarthritis. The extract of a plant called boswellia serrata was also found to provide similar relief to an NSAID medication in a randomized, open-label trial for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Pine bark extract was also found to be more effective than placebo in relieving pain in another randomized, double blind study.
Physicians working with Holistic Pain identified supplements associated with relief of osteoarthritis pain in previous research, including those listed above, and developed a formulation that combines them. This year we will begin conducting an open-label, non-randomized study evaluating these medications for low back pain associated with arthritic degeneration of the joints in the spine. Patients suffering from moderate to severe chronic low back pain associated with confirmed facet arthritis may be eligible to take part.
Qualifying patients would receive a free three-month supply of the Holistic Pain Spine supplement. Patients would complete baseline questionnaires assessing pain and daily functioning as well as follow up questionnaires over the Internet at one, two, and three months after beginning the daily supplement.
If you are interested in learning more about this study and whether you might qualify for it, you can discuss this study with your pain management providers. For additional information about this study you can contact me directly at TedS@arizonapain.com.
Ted Swing has more than eleven years of research experience in psychology and pain medicine and four years of teaching experience, has published in top psychology and medical journals, and has presented his research at major conferences. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Iowa State University and has been the Research Director at Arizona Pain since May 2012.