How to Use Turmeric for Back Pain
Turmeric isn't just a delicious cooking spice; it has been used in traditional Indian medicine for generations. More recently, however, turmeric has started to enter the mainstream. Ever more people have been discovering the potential benefits of taking turmeric for a range of different conditions.
In this article we'll delve into the science behind the use of turmeric for back pain. We'll discuss whether research confirms this effect, the dosage shown to have a beneficial impact, and any side effects that you should look out for.
The Most Common Causes of Back Pain
Back pain is currently estimated to be the single most common cause of disability in the UK, and the second most common in North America. This has led some authors to refer to back issues as an “epidemic”, particularly as the number of affected individuals seems to be on the rise.
Part of the problem with back pain is that it can have many different causes, and identifying these can be challenging, even for medical professionals. What we can say, however, is that the most common cause of back problems seems to be muscle or ligament damage.
Torn or pulled tissue can become inflamed, leading to pain and a reduced range of movement. Historically, turmeric (together with its active ingredient “curcumin”) has been known for its anti-inflammatory properties. But do these ingredients really work - and can they help the muscle tissue damage associated with back pain?
The Science Behind Turmeric for Back Pain
One of the most common inflammatory diseases is rheumatoid arthritis (often shortened to just “RA”), in which joint cartilage is affected. While this is most commonly experienced in the fingers, RA has the potential to affect almost any joint in the body.
In order to assess the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, a study was carried out on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They were either prescribed a standard pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory, the active ingredient in turmeric known as curcumin, or a combination of the two.
With ongoing monitoring of their condition, it was noted that all three groups saw significant improvements.
Perhaps rather more interestingly, however, the results showed that “the curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement”, even more than those taking the standard anti-inflammatory.
If, as this research suggests, turmeric can be a more powerful anti-inflammatory than some traditional pharmaceuticals then it really is an impressive result.
Of course, these exact same properties can impact other cases of inflammation too, such as seen in cases of back pain. Another study examined the inflammation that can arise after intense exercise, such as marathon runs. In this instance, participants ran downhill as far as they possibly could before getting fatigued.
It is well-known that such exercises place additional strain on the knees and ankles, so inflammation is an expected consequence. Interestingly, those who took a turmeric supplement beforehand experienced a statistically significant improvement over those taking no supplement.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning a wide-ranging investigation which pooled the results from numerous other turmeric experiments. Doing so allowed the experts to draw far broader and more significant conclusions than any single test could hope to do. They found that even this wealth of data, garnered from a range of different studies, painted a pretty conclusive picture, and that their results “provide scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of turmeric extract” on inflammation.
Under the assumption that your bad back is being caused, at least in part, by inflammation, this evidence supports the use of turmeric as an effective potential solution.
Is Taking Turmeric for Back Pain Safe?
Turmeric has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. During this time, no issues have been observed from long-term use. That said, many studies have used considerably higher doses to get a beneficial effect than are typically used in cookery. The real question is therefore whether consuming large doses of turmeric is likely to cause issues?
Five different studies in recent years have used doses of between 1125mg and 2500mg over an extended period of time, without noting any issues. Even more extreme, one particular study gave participants an astonishing 8000mg of turmeric per day for a period of three months. Once again, no symptoms of toxicity were observed.
Consequently, turmeric is well-respected within scientific circles for its high safety profile, and even in large doses or when taken over a long period of time the side effects are largely on par with volunteers taking a placebo.
How Much Turmeric Should Be Taken for Back Pain?
Turmeric may have shown in rigorous studies to positive influence cases of inflammation, but there is an issue. Firstly, it isn't turmeric itself which is beneficial, but instead an individual constituent found within it.
The active ingredient is known as “curcumin”. Depending on how turmeric has been grown, and how the powder has been processed, the level of curcumin found within turmeric powder can vary significantly. It is therefore much safer to consider the dose of curcumin, rather than of turmeric.
Secondly, curcumin is metabolised very quickly by the liver. This essentially means that it is rapidly filtered out of the body, and very little is actually absorbed. The result is minimal beneficial effects.
To give an example of just how quickly, one study which gave 4 grams of curcumin to volunteers found that levels peaked between one and two hours after consumption and “declined rapidly” thereafter.
Fortunately there is a solution to this seemingly bad news. Combining curcumin with a second ingredient, known as “piperine”, increases its bioavailability. Piperine is the active ingredient found in some varieties of black pepper, so a piperine/curcumin complex typically yields the strongest results and most long-term effects.
The standard dose of roughly 400-600mg of curcumin looks to be beneficial based on previous studies. This is broadly equivalent to around 2 grams of standard turmeric powder. As we have seen, however, taking higher doses is unlikely to cause ill effects, so some people with severe back pain decide to consume more.
Our own curcumin capsules contain the equivalent of 12,000mg, and so can really pack a punch.
Are There Other Remedies Worth Trying?
Turmeric may be an effective and reasonably-priced solution to inflammatory back problems, but it is certainly not the only potential solution. Many other supplements also display anti-inflammatory properties, including fish oil and ginger. Perhaps one of the most exciting supplements, however, is Devil's Claw...
Devil's Claw for Back Pain
Devil's Claw is a plant that grows in sub-Saharan Africa. Known to botanists as “Harpagophytum”, it derives its common name from the black, claw-shaped seed pods that are produced after flowering.
Despite its less-than-appealing name, Devil's Claw has long been used for its pain-killing abilities.
Among these impacts, back pain is a key element. A group of volunteers suffering from muscular pain in their back, shoulders and neck were prescribed two Devil's Claw tablets per day.
Each one contained 480mg of the active ingredient, and they were taken both morning and evening. An equally-sized group received a placebo, so that the two treatments could be compared. Just 4 weeks later the scientists running the experiment reported “highly significant effects” on pain and muscle stiffness in the active treatment group.
Elsewhere, a similar study provided Devil's Claw tablets to 259 patients with joint problems. After 8 weeks of treatment, each participant underwent an assessment program, aimed at measuring the impact of their treatment. The results showed improvements for pain, stiffness and function for most joint-related issues, including those of the “hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and back”.
The treatment was found to be so effective that by the end of the research period some 60% of patients had either reduced or stopped taking their standard painkillers entirely.
Consequently, for individuals suffering with back pain, the evidence suggests that Devil's Claw may make a suitable alternative, or even additional, supplement for such conditions.
As we have seen, there is a healthy amount of evidence to suggest that turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin can benefit cases of inflammation. This extends to the inflammation that often contributes to back or neck pain. Sadly, the benefits of consuming culinary turmeric powder are likely to be meagre, due to issues with bioavailability.
In contrast, however, a combination of standardised turmeric or curcumin combined with black pepper extract is likely to be far more efficacious.
Lastly, the current research suggests that large doses, or long term use, have very few side-effects. Why not give it a try today?