Topical treatment with comfrey root extract ointment can markedly reduce acute upper and lower back pain, according to a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Comfrey, a medicinal herb, has long been used to treat painful joint and muscular conditions, Dr Christiane Staiger, from Merck Selbstmedikation GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany, and colleagues explain. The root of the plant, in particular, has shown promise in reducing pain.
Symphytum officinale is the formal name of the plant, which is commonly found in Europe and Asia and is a member of the Borage and Forget-me-not family, Boraginaceae. Comfrey may grow about three feet high, blooms from early spring throughout the summer, and is distinguished by its yellow and sometimes purple bell-shaped flowers.
In the current study, the researchers used a visual analogue scale to assess back pain in 120 patients who were randomly assigned to receive 4 grams of comfrey root extract ointment or a placebo ointment three times daily for five days.
What the study showed
The visual analogue scale is a standard method of measuring the intensity of a patient's pain that uses a straight line with one end meaning "no pain" and the other end meaning the "worst pain imaginable". The patient marks the point on the line that matches the amount of pain he or she feels.
Between the first and fourth (and final) follow-up assessment, pain intensity dropped by 95% in the comfrey root extract group, while pain was reduced by 39% in the placebo group. Pain relief after application of the extract was rapid, usually beginning in less than one hour. As pain improved, patients' mobility did also.
"Comfrey root extract shows a remarkably potent and clinically relevant effect in reducing acute back pain," Staiger's team concludes. Reduction of pain and improvement in mobility was fast and correlated with each other. – (Reuters Health, May 2009)