Glucosamine works better on knee pain than on back pain

Because of differences in joints, the effect of glucosamine sulphate may vary for different parts of the body. According to a study from Oslo University Hospital glucosamine sulphate does not seem to have a significant effect on chronic lower back pain. But these results shouldn't discourage people who take glucosamine for other types of osteoarthritis, says the lead author on the study.

While effective against osteoarthritis in the knee and hip, glucosamine sulphate may not be an ideal form of treatment for people with low back pain, according to a new study. This is likely because the joints in the spine are less mobile than the joints of the knee and hip, where frequent movement facilitates the exchange of active substances in the joint fluid.

“The results of the study shouldn't discourage people who take glucosamine for other types of osteoarthritis. Because of differences in joints, glucosamine may act differently in other parts of the body, It's probably helping a lot of people with knee pain." - study lead author Philip Wilkens, Oslo University Hospital.

The study was done by a team from Oslo University Hospital in Norway, led by chiropractor Philip Wilkens. 250 patients with low back pain were examined in the study, all of them showing damage to the cartilage around part of the spine, a sign of osteoarthritis. In osteoarthritis, cartilage around the bone breaks down at the joint, causing swelling and pain and making it harder to move. Glucosamine has shown success in treating some kinds of osteoarthritis, notably in the knee and hip.

Improvement for both glucosamine and placebo

Half of those patients were given a standard dose of glucosamine sulphate (1500 milligrams per day) and the other half were given placebo pills, but neither group knew which treatment they had. Patients took the pills for six months. Both the glucosamine and placebo was provided by Pharma Nord.

At the beginning of the study and again after six months, the patients filled out questionnaires about their pain. Another six months after the study ended, patients were asked about their pain once more. In their evaluations, both patients taking glucosamine and those taking a placebo reported fewer problems related to their back pain than they had at the beginning.

Placebo effect?

However, there was no difference based on what pills they had been taking - people on the placebo improved just as much as people on glucosamine, according to the report, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Part of the improvement in patients' pain might have happened because all patients were allowed to get other treatment during the study. The rest of the improvement could be because of the placebo effect, according to Wilkens.

Still effective against knee pain

The results of the study shouldn't discourage people who take glucosamine for other types of osteoarthritis. Because of differences in joints, glucosamine may act differently in other parts of the body, It's probably helping a lot of people with knee pain," Wilkens told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, online July 6, 2010.

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