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July 7th, 2010
09:52 AM ET

Glucosamine no relief for low back pain sufferers

New research leaves more questions than answers for those with chronic low back pain.

A study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests glucosamine pills do not provide relief for lower back pain. The study, conducted at Oslo University Hospital in Norway, looked at 250 people over the age of 25, with chronic low back pain who also had degenerative discs in their lower backs. Researchers gave half of the patients daily doses of 1,500 miligrams of glucosamine. The other half received a placebo.

Here's what they found: there was little difference with patients who took glucosamine compared with those patients who took the placebo. Lead study author, Philip Wilkens, who's also a research fellow at Oslo University Hospital, says "glucosamine is not going to help the patient better than the placebo...in terms of chronic low back pain."

Every year Americans spend at least $50 billion on treating their low back pain and it's one of the leading reasons why people miss work.  Glucosamine is a natural compound that is found in healthy cartilage and is commonly used to help with low back and knee pain.

So if you take glucosamine for back pain, what should you do?

Dr. Scott D. Boden, director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, says he may still recommend trying glucosamine for a six-month trial to those patients who are interested in trying it. He says it's not surprising that glucosamine is not effective for all types of low back pain, but he suggests "there may certain subgroups of low back pain sufferers who may be responsive to the drug."

There are other ways to ease the pain if you are one of the 25 percent of Americans who experience at least one day of back pain every month. Exercises including yoga and pilates, massage therapy, and medications such as cortisone injections are just a few of the options to help relieve low back pain.


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    I'm not sure why this is a surprising result. The uses of glucosamine are very well known. Glucosamine is best for osteoarthritis of the knee, hips, and other joints where cartilage has been lost.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.