The Cochrane Collaboration has evaluated the effectiveness of herbal medicines for the treatment of low back pain.
Here’s what they found. Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s claw)
Two high-quality trials provide strong evidence for short-term improvements in pain and rescue medication at daily doses of 50 mg or 100 mg.
Another high-quality trial demonstrated equivalence to 12.5 mg per day of rofecoxib (Vioxx).
Salix alba (White willow bark)
Two moderate-quality trials reported moderate evidence for short-term improvements in pain and rescue medication for daily doses standardized to 120 mg or 240 mg salicin.
Another trial reported relative equivalence to 12.5 mg per day of rofecoxib.
Capsicum frutescens (Cayenne)
3 low-quality trials using various topical preparations found moderate evidence for favorable results against placebo.
One study found equivalence to a homeopathic ointment.
The bottom line?
Each of these herbals reduced pain more than placebo. The conclusions summarized above are take verbatum from the abstract of the article.
Yet, despite their characterization of the studies as “high-quality” (Devil’s claw) and “moderate-quality” (White willow bark), the reviewers hedge at the last moment in their confidence of the research by stating, “The quality of reporting in these trials was generally poor.”
John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.