A summary from (12) studies showed that Devil’s Claw was as effective as traditional pharmaceutical care to relieve pain for osteoarthritis and low back pain.
Low back pain and osteoarthritis are two major health concerns in the United States. Low back pain is the second most common reason for a doctor’s visit and the third most common reason for surgery (1). Chronic low back pain is also the most common cause of disability in Americans younger than 45 years (1). It is estimated that 50 million U.S. adults have some form of arthritis diagnosed by their doctor (2). Yet, Africa may provide relief with a long-used herb, Harpagophytum procumbens (3).
Harpgophytum procumbens, also known as devil’s claw, is an herb that has been used by natives in South Africa for musculoskeletal complaints (3). It also has been used in Europe for over 50 years for osteoarthritis and low back pain (3). The root of the plant is what is used to make the herbal medicine.
A review including 12 research studies using Harpgophytum procumben’s was done to determine the effectiveness of the herbal remedy in the pain associated with osteoarthritis and low back pain (3). The review was broken into three different categories:
A total of five randomized controlled trials included 385 participants with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee. Three of the trials compared Harpgophytum to placebo and in each case Harpgophytum was found to be more effective than the placebo (3). Two of the trials compared Harpgophytum to standard pharmaceutical treatment and in both cases Harpgophytum was found to be as effective as the standard pharmaceutical treatment (3). The dose of Harpgophytum ranged from 2000 mg per day to 4500 mg per day.
Low Back Pain
A total of four randomized trials included 505 participants with acute exacerbation of chronic low back pain (3). Two of the trials were compared to placebo and in both trials, Harpgophytum was found to be better than placebo or to increase the number of pain-free days (3). The other two trials were compared to standard pharmaceutical treatment and in both cases, Harpgophytum was found to be as effective as the standard pharmaceutical treatment (3). The dose of Harpgophytum for all trials was 4500 mg per day (one trial had an additional group taking 9000 mg per day) (3).
The last three trials included 215 participants with various forms of musculoskeletal pain (3). All three trails were randomized and placebo controlled and all trials found Harpgophytum to be better than placebo at 4500 mg per day (3).
In conclusion, the review showed Harpgophytum as an effective alternative to placebo and was often as effective as pharmaceutical treatments (3). The review included good quality studies but the overall number of participants was still low for a review (3). NSAIDS are often used to relieve pain for osteoarthritis and low back pain. With the possible side effects of NSAIDs (gastrointestinal bleeds and cardiovascular concerns), alternatives such as Harpgophytum should be considered (3). Although the review does not give exact details, it is important to note that 8 of the 12 trials reported adverse side effects with Harpgophytum (3).
Abstracted by Jessica Patella, ND from “Harpgophytum procumbens- Devil’s Claw” for osteoarthritis and low back pain: A systematic review.” From the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 15, September 2004. Posted July 31, 2012. r/ar
Jessica Patella, ND, is a naturopathic physician specializing in nutrition and homeopathic medicine and offers a holistic approach to health. Visit her website at www.awarenesswellness.com
- Medscape. Low back pain and sciatica.
- CDC. Arthritis-Related Statistics.
- Gagnier, et al. Harpgophytum procumbens for osteoarthritis and low back pain: A systematic review. 2004. BMC Comp and Altern Med. Doi:10.1186/1472-6882-4-13.