Why does Devil’s Claw work for back pain?
Devil's Claw contains lots of plant chemicals. Flavonoids, glycosides, and phenolic acids are just a few. One of the glycosides in Devil's Claw, Harpagoside, deserves a special mention. It reduces inflammation in the joints which is why scientists believe Devil's Claw helps with back pain.
How does Devil’s Claw work for back pain?
Devil's Claw works internally to deliver an anti-inflammatory effect to the whole body. It has a mild braking effect on many of the chemical pathways that lead to inflammation. The overall effect is to slow the inflammatory process without completely blocking any chemical pathways. This complete blocking happens when taking conventional pain medication, and is the reason they often cause side effects.
Although Harpagoside is thought to have a key role in Devil's Claw and its ability to ease pain, a 2012 review concluded that it was less effective when chemical constituents were isolated, and that all of the plant chemicals need to be present as nature intended for best effect. (1)
What does the research say?
There's lots of research showing Devil Claw's anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, and there are even studies to show that it works for back pain specifically.
Back pain relief
A Cochrane review on herbal back pain relief highlighted two studies that showed Devil's Claw as being more effective than placebo for relieving low back pain. (2)
In one study, 174 patients were treated twice daily with Devil's Claw tablets. The results showed significant improvements in pain and mobility. (3)
A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled study using 197 patients concluded that two daily doses of Devil's Claw were significantly more effective than placebo in treating back pain. (4)
An animal study showed Devil Claw's ability to inhibit pro-inflammatory agents such as TNF-α. The study concluded that plant constituents other than Harpagoside seem to contribute to the anti- inflammatory effect as well. (5)
Joint pain relief
In a clinical study, 259 patients who had at least one joint or one body part giving slight to moderate rheumatic trouble were treated with two Devil's Claw tablets over a period of 8 weeks. In individual joints, pain significantly decreased by up to 58%, and back pain was reduced significantly by about 37%. The study showed that Devil's Claw tablets are a very effective and tolerable therapy for patients with mild to moderate rheumatic problems. (6)
How to take Devil’s Claw
The root of the Devil's Claw plant is used medicinally. It's made into powder, tea, ointment, capsules and liquid drops for medicinal use.
It's worth bearing in mind that Devil's Claw is in danger of being over-harvested. So, before buying a Devil's Claw product, investigate the company's policies on harvesting and make sure they are working sustainably with the plant.
Depending on the nature of the back pain you are suffering from, Devil Claw's effects could be enhanced by using additional supplements and therapies for pain and healthy joints. Glucosamine sulphate, magnesium, arnica gel, and acupuncture are great additions for different reasons. Call into your local health store or pharmacy to find out what might work best for you.
Devil's Claw is fine to take alongside other medications and nutritional supplements. Those with heart conditions are advised to consult their doctor before use, due to high dose trials done on mice. Devil's Claw is what herbalists call a bitter, which means it is not suitable for those with active stomach ulcers.
Normally, back pain occurs as a result of an accident or lifting something heavy, or it can develop over time as we age. Very rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious problem. If you have back pain and a high temperature; you've lost weight without trying to; there's a lump or swelling in your back or your back has changed shape; the pain does not improve after resting or is worse at night; the pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing; or the pain is coming from the top of your back (between your shoulders) rather than your lower back, you should contact your doctor. (7)