An ointment made from comfrey root extract may significantly reduce acute upper and lower back pain, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia. The herb has traditionally been applied to the skin for inflammation, pain and wound healing, and has been taken by mouth for digestive, breathing and gynecological conditions.
In the study, 120 adults with back pain were randomly assigned to receive either 4 grams of the comfrey-containing ointment Kytta-SalbeĻ or placebo three times daily for five days. The participants' pain was measured using a visual analogue scale.
By the end of the study, pain intensity improved by about 95 percent in the comfrey group compared to just 37 percent in the placebo group. The authors also noted that pain was relieved quickly, usually in less than one hour after the ointment was applied to the skin.
The authors concluded that "comfrey root extract showed a remarkably potent and clinically relevant effect in reducing acute back pain." These findings support several earlier human studies that suggest comfrey-containing creams may reduce inflammation and pain associated with sprains and muscle injuries.
Although comfrey has been traditionally used both orally and topically, recent evidence suggests that the herb may contain cancer-causing compounds and may lead to liver damage. As a result, various countries, including the United States, have asked companies to remove oral comfrey products from the market, and topical products are required to advise consumers not to use on broken skin. Other countries, such as Germany, allow topical comfrey products with a label including the maximal daily allowable levels of pyrrolidizine alkaloids of 100 micrograms and maximal use over six weeks per year.
Giannetti BM, Staiger C, Bulitta M, et al. Efficacy and safety of a
Comfrey root extract ointment in the treatment of acute upper or low
back pain: results of a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled,
multi-centre trial. Br J Sports Med. 2009 May 21.
This article appeared in the July 2007 issue of the Integrative Medicine Newsletter for Natural Standard