Low back pain afflicts eight out of 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. It is the second most frequent cause of lost work days, and is the most common cause of disability in people under 45 years of age.

After an independent review of clinical studies, Canadian researchers reported that devil’s claw, white willow bark and cayenne may have a role in short-term low back pain relief. The 10 studies reviewed involved 1,600 adults with acute, sub-acute or chronic low back pain. They found that the herbal preparations work better than a placebo and may be as effective as pain medication for short-term low back pain.

The researchers reported there was strong evidence that a 50 mg dose of devil’s claw was better than placebo in the short term. In a trial of white willow bark versus placebo, the stronger the dose, the more pain relief was found. A trial of cayenne plasters also produced improvement in pain versus placebo.

The authors of the review concluded that the specific herbal medicines may be effective for short-term improvement in pain for individuals with acute episodes of chronic non-specific low-back pain. They also noted that with pain relief prescription drugs such as Vioxx being taken off the market, herbal preparations should be considered as an effective alternative or complementary treatment. However, they suggested that changes in treatment should be overseen by a health professional.

Source: The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 2