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Trial of glucosamine for low back pain finds no therapeutic effect

PainSci » bibliography » Wilkens et al 2010
Tags: treatment, poisoning, back pain, intervertebral disc, spine, arthritis, pain problems, aging

Three articles on PainSci cite Wilkens 2010: 1. The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain2. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks3. Vitamins, Minerals & Supplements for Pain & Healing

PainSci commentary on Wilkens 2010: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This straightforward and good quality test of glucosamine for low back pain — the first of its kind — found no therapeutic benefit by any measure: “Our findings suggest that glucosamine is not associated with a significant difference in pain-related disability, low back and leg pain, health-related quality of life, global perceived effect of treatment.” Although statistically insignificant, disability was actually greater in those who took glucosamine, and “approximately 30% of the patients reported mild adverse events.” They tested 250 adults who’d had low back pain for more than 6 months, and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis.

Almost 30% of patients had mild side effects, and 10 patients withdrew because of them, but there were no serious problems.

See also Dr. Harriet Hall’s analysis. She writes:

[This study is] well-designed, randomized and double blind, with 250 subjects, a low drop-out rate, a 6 month duration with a one year follow-up, appropriate clinical criteria for improvement (disability, pain, quality of life, use of rescue medications), intention-to-treat analysis, and even an ‘exit poll’ to insure that blinding had been effective, that patients couldn’t guess which group they were in. It used the doses of glucosamine sulfate that had been called for by critics of previous studies. It was done in Norway, where glucosamine is a prescription drug (in the US it is marketed as a diet supplement under DSHEA regulations so there is a greater possibility of dosage variations and impurities); it was independently funded, with no involvement of industry.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

CONTEXT: Chronic low back pain (LBP) with degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis (OA) is widespread in the adult population. Although glucosamine is increasingly used by patients with chronic LBP, little is known about its effect in this setting.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of glucosamine in patients with chronic LBP and degenerative lumbar OA.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted at Oslo University Hospital Outpatient Clinic, Oslo, Norway, with 250 patients older than 25 years of age with chronic LBP >6 months) and degenerative lumbar OA.

INTERVENTIONS: Daily intake of 1500 mg of oral glucosamine (n = 125) or placebo (n = 125) for 6 months, with assessment of effect after the 6-month intervention period and at 1 year (6 months postintervention).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome was pain-related disability measured with the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ). Secondary outcomes were numerical scores from pain-rating scales of patients at rest and during activity, and the quality-of-life EuroQol-5 Dimensions (EQ-5D) instrument. Data collection occurred during the intervention period at baseline, 6 weeks, 3 and 6 months, and again 6 months following the intervention at 1 year. Group differences were analyzed using linear mixed models analysis.

RESULTS: At baseline, mean RMDQ scores were 9.2 (95% confidence interval [CI], 8.4-10.0) for glucosamine and 9.7 (95% CI, 8.9-10.5) for the placebo group (P = .37). At 6 months, the mean RMDQ score was the same for the glucosamine and placebo groups (5.0; 95% CI, 4.2-5.8). At 1 year, the mean RMDQ scores were 4.8 (95% CI, 3.9-5.6) for glucosamine and 5.5 (95% CI, 4.7-6.4) for the placebo group. No statistically significant difference in change between groups was found when assessed after the 6-month intervention period and at 1 year: RMDQ (P = .72), LBP at rest (P = .91), LBP during activity (P = .97), and quality-of-life EQ-5D (P = .20). Mild adverse events were reported in 40 patients in the glucosamine group and 46 in the placebo group (P = .48).

CONCLUSIONS: Among patients with chronic LBP and degenerative lumbar OA, 6-month treatment with oral glucosamine compared with placebo did not result in reduced pain-related disability after the 6-month intervention and after 1-year follow-up.

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