At the start of the 6-month trial, patients taking glucosamine scored 9.2 on the pain scale while the patients taking placebo scored 9.7, the researchers note. At the 6-month point, both groups scored 5.0, and after one year the glucosamine group scored 4.8 while the placebo group scored 5.5, Wilkens's group found.
However, the small differences in scores at six months or one year were not statistically significant, the researchers say. Nor were minor differences in quality of life between the two groups deemed significant.
The bottom line, according to Wilkens: "People with chronic low back pain and degenerative osteoarthritis will not benefit more from glucosamine than placebo for treating their back problem."
Dr. Andrew L. Avins, a scientist in the division of research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that, "from a clinical standpoint, the study demonstrates that glucosamine does not appear to be better than placebo for patients with chronic low back pain and spinal arthritis."
However, the study found no ill effects from taking the supplement. So, patients who take glucosamine and feel that it is helping them should be reassured that it's at least not harmful, said Avins, who is also professor of medicine, epidemiology & biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.
"The larger implications [of this study] are that we still know very little about how to help most patients with chronic low back pain, and we need much more careful, directed research to help make progress in providing relief to patients with back pain," he added.
Even though back pain is an incredibly important public health and quality of life problem, it suffers from insufficient attention and research funding, Avins believes. "In the U.S., we spend far more on treatments of little or questionable va
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