What is one of the best kept secrets for pain relief? Devil’s Claw or Harpagophytum procumbens. For years, we have depended on over-the-counter and prescribed medication to ease pain but in other parts of the world devil’s claw is known and used for pain relief.
Its early use began in Southern Africa. The Khoison peoples of Madagascar and the Kalihari Desert used devil’s claw to lower fever, reduce complications in pregnancy and a plethora of pain-related conditions. Then in the early 1900s, Europeans learned of its benefits and today, we can find Devil’s Claw used as a remedy to relieve pain associated with degenerative diseases and back pain.1
Why such a strange name for a plant with such wonderful properties? It has to do with its physical appearance. It is a shrub that grows foliage and red flowers. But its fruit or seeds have claw-like hooks and hence the name, Devil’s Claw. Although the name reflects its hooks, the pain relieving properties comes from its tubers and roots. A compound called harpagoside, which belongs to a family of iridoid glycosides, is known for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
How does devil’s claw work? We don’t know everything but early in-vitro studies show that harpagoside may interact with the inflammatory cascade, which includes cytokines. Also, there may be a decrease in the stimulated production of matrix-degrading enzymes. These two mechanisms may help explain why studies have reported benefits in pain relief.2
Devil’s Claw is known to help reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis. One study showed a reduction in pain among 122 subjects who suffered from osteoarthritis in the knee and hip. After four months the subjects reported a reduction in pain and an increase in their ability to function. In this study, devil’s claw was just as effective as a European medication used to treat osteoarthritis. Another study involving 75 subjects, showed a similar reduction in osteoarthritic pain.2
Devil’s Claw is thought to lower back, shoulder and neck pain. In three different studies, subjects with low to moderate back, neck and shoulder pain took Devil’s Claw from 4 to 54 weeks. These studies reported a reduction in pain. One of these studies compared Devil’s Claw to a COX-2 inhibitor medication and Devil’s Claw was just as effective as the medication.3
Even though these studies support the use of Devil’s Claw for pain, we need more research to understand how it works in the body and confirm current findings. We also need to understand the other uses of Devil’s Claw. For example, will it benefit those with stomach upset, loss of appetite, headache, allergy and fever? Or, what about its use for burns and sores? These and other questions still need to be answered.
Will Devil’s Claw be the magic bullet for pain? Well… not exactly but it is a great choice for a natural remedy that works. Remember though, if you are taking medication for pain, check with your doctor first before using devil’s claw.
So now, the word is out! Devil’s Claw is the herb of choice for pain relief.
- Devil’s Claw Extract Reduces the Pain Associated with Osteoarthritis and Other Musculoskeletal Complaints. Smart Publications – Accessed September 9, 2009.
- Gagnier JJ, Chrubasik S, and Manheimer E. Harpgophytum procumbens for osteoarthritis and low back pain: A systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004;4:13.
- Devil’s Claw. University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed on November 1, 2009