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Back and Joint Pain Supplements: Are They Worth It?

If You Plan to Use an Herbal Supplement, Do Your Homework and Play It Safe

May 2021

For some of us, back, neck or joint pain is a constant in our lives. We just want it to stop. We may or may not have visited the right medical specialist for a proper diagnosis. We may even be in the course of medical treatment. But given the pain – mentally we are vulnerable to anyone promoting an easy solution.

Thus, when we see an ad on TV, or in a magazine, or on the Internet, we may stop, listen or read. The promise of a drug-free, all-natural supplement that will reduce our aches and pains sounds great.

Over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen (known by brand names such as Advil® and Motrin®) and Naproxen sodium (known by the brand name Aleve®) are only intended for short-term use. You shouldn’t use them continuously for more than three days for fever, and ten days for pain, unless your doctor has explicitly given you the OK to do so. If you take them for a long period, you and your doctor need to be watchful for harmful side effects.

Advertisements promise that all-natural herbal supplements can replace the anti-inflammatory, pain alleviation benefits of NSAIDs. And these ads encourage that their products should be used for extended periods of time. Are they effective? Are they safe? And are they worth it?

Nutritional Supplements
Nutritional supplements

Always Consult Your Doctor Before Taking Any Herbal Supplement

Should you consult your doctor before taking a herbal supplement? Yes, absolutely, particularly if you are taking prescribed medicines.

Just because an herbal product says it only contains “natural” ingredients doesn’t mean that those ingredients won’t cause serious health problems due to drug interactions. They may also impact your health or existing health conditions in unexpected ways. For example, some supplements may cause heart problems, whether or not a person is also taking heart medications.

Only your doctor can help you evaluate whether any herbal supplement that you are considering is safe for your health conditions – or if your prescription medications may negatively react with it. Aspirin, NSAIDs, digoxin, diuretics, hypoglycemics, spironolactone, or warfarin should never be combined with herbal supplements without your doctor’s OK.

Can You Count on FDA Oversight Over the Dietary Supplements Market?

Does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) make sure that dietary supplements perform exactly as promised? Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case.

The FDA does have some oversight over the dietary supplement industry, but not in the same rigorous way that it regulates prescription drugs. Under the authority of the Dietary Supplement Education Act of October 1994, the FDA does not require manufacturers of herbal products to prove that they are either safe or effective before they are put on the market. However, after release, the FDA is responsible for monitoring the safety of a product after it has become available to consumers.

Dietary Supplements for Inflammation and the Cause of Your Pain

One culprit for pain is inflammation around your joints and spine. The pain from that inflammation in your back can occur anywhere along your spine from your neck to your tailbone. What some supplements promise to do is to reduce that inflammation, along with the mild to moderate muscle and joint pain that accompanies it.

Inflammation plays a central role in healing. It indicates that your immune system is sending out an army of white blood cells to respond to an injury. With acute inflammation, those white blood cells protect the body and are part of the healing process. However, with chronic inflammation, the inflammation persists – and the white blood cells can end up attacking healthy tissue.

Thus, even if you are considering a dietary supplement to help control inflammation and pain, you should be primarily focusing on determining the cause(s) of your pain in the first place. Whether your inflammation is acute or chronic is an important consideration for proper treatment.

Without a doctor helping you to determine the actual cause of your pain, you could be masking a situation that may need more serious attention. And your doctor may also have other recommendations on what could also help you, including physical therapy, exercise, and diet changes.

Research Carefully

Unfortunately, there are many herbal supplement products advertised for joint and back pain relief that don’t measure up. And as we just mentioned, some include ingredients that may be harmful to you.

When selecting a supplement, consider asking the following questions:

  • Are the claims from the product backed up by clinical studies and independent medical research?
  • Are the ingredients fully detailed?
  • Is there a major company behind the product where strict quality controls are maintained?
  • It is available from a large pharmacy or health food chain, indicating that the pharmacy or chain believes in the product?
  • Is there a USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) mark on the product indicating higher standards for rigorous science and public quality?
  • Does your doctor agree with your use of it?

If you plan to use an herbal supplement, do your homework and play it safe.

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