Harvard Health Ad Watch: Aches, pains, and muscle cramps — do well-advertised remedies actually work?


A girl applies a cream to her sore joints and says it’s modified her life. Two sports activities heroes sing the praises of an over-the-counter cream for his or her aches and pains. A star doctor claims that spray-on foam can finish your every day struggling.

You’ve most likely seen testimonials like these in over-the-counter ache treatment adverts. However is there strong proof to again up such claims? Let’s concentrate on three merchandise with catchy names and advertising and marketing claims in heavy rotation on TV.

  • Blue-Emu: Marketed for muscle, joint, or again ache. “… Get again within the sport with out smelling like a locker room. You may really feel 100% assured in utilizing our merchandise to assist soothe drained muscle tissues and joints.”
  • Australian Dream: Marketed for joint or again ache. “Arthritis victims and long-time athletes alike depend on our joint ache reduction cream for assured consolation. Utilized on to the painful space, this pure mix of elements works quick and successfully.”
  • Theraworx: Marketed for sore muscle tissues, muscle cramps, or joint ache. “Clinically confirmed to cease muscle cramps earlier than they begin.”“Gives fast-acting reduction of muscle cramps and spasms, in addition to post-cramp soreness — most individuals get reduction inside minutes!”

What are these seemingly miraculous therapies?

Every is utilized on to pores and skin (topically). Theraworx is a foam; the others come as lotions or sprays. Based on their producers, right here’s the ingredient checklist:

  • Blue-Emu: An “authentic” model has greater than 20 elements, together with glucosamine, aloe vera, and emu oil — however no energetic ingredient is listed! For Blue-Emu Most Arthritis Ache Reduction and Blue-Emu Extremely with Hemp Seed Oil, the energetic ingredient is trolamine salicylate, an in depth relative of aspirin. Blue-Emu Lidocaine Dry Patch lists lidocaine because the energetic ingredient; it’s much like the numbing remedy novocaine.
  • Australian Dream: Emu oil is listed right here, too, however the energetic ingredient is histamine hydrochloride, a topical ache reliever. Based on its makers, that ingredient briefly will increase the scale of your blood vessels for higher circulation, which “safely and successfully reduces ache within the joint or muscle.” (By the way in which, this product is made in Kentucky, not Australia.)
  • Theraworx Reduction for Joint Discomfort and Irritation lists olibanum, an oil from boswellia bushes (additionally referred to as frankincense oil), as its the energetic ingredient. Twenty different elements, together with calcium, aloe, and grapefruit extract, are additionally listed. You’ll must put on a compression sleeve over the sore joint after making use of the product.
  • Theraworx Reduction for Muscle Cramps and Spasms has magnesium sulfate as its energetic ingredient. Whereas magnesium deficiency can trigger muscle cramps, most nonpregnant folks given oral magnesium dietary supplements don’t profit. And, no proof suggests most individuals with frequent muscle cramps, resembling nighttime muscle cramps, have a magnesium deficiency, or that making use of the mineral to pores and skin counters an issue within the muscle tissues.

Do they ship on their guarantees?

That is determined by the way you measure success: by buyer scores, website evaluations, or outcomes of research in folks with signs like yours?

Whereas research of rodents or lab experiments can be found, not one of the producers’ adverts or web sites present ample particulars about research demonstrating that their merchandise work on people.

For instance:

  • Theraworks Reduction for Muscle Cramps and Spasms: Two research talked about in an advert present enchancment in muscle cramps and spasms in 60% of 84 contributors. Nevertheless it’s not potential to trace down the precise research or interpret their outcomes. How lengthy did it take for remedy to work? Does it stop cramps — or simply deal with them? How lengthy did the research final? Was Theraworx in contrast with placebo? No thought! (Healthcare professionals can get extra info, however solely upon request — and provided that they supply private info and a medical license quantity.)

    A two-week research of fifty paid volunteers famous modest enchancment in leg cramps, sleep, high quality of life, and melancholy for these utilizing Theraworx Reduction. Nevertheless it was funded by the product makers, and wasn’t revealed in a mainstream or well-respected medical journal.

  • Blue-Emu: The energetic ingredient, trolamine salicylate, has been studied in small, short-term trials, resembling this one from 1982 and this one from 1994. Outcomes have been blended at greatest and don’t assist their adverts’ claims.
  • Australian Dream: Whereas not FDA-approved, its advertising and marketing says it “accommodates an FDA-approved ingredient.” Certainly, histamine dihydrochloride is a topical ache reliever authorized many years in the past, regardless of little analysis displaying it really relieves ache. Their adverts and web site present no human research of the product to deal with joint or again ache. It’s not even clear why topical histamine would ease ache. Dilation of blood vessels talked about within the adverts isn’t identified to supply reduction for joint or muscle ache. In truth, one of many simpler ache therapies — making use of ice — constricts blood vessels.

And what in regards to the emu oil? Each Blue-Emu and Australian Dream include it. Some research have investigated it for burn wound therapeutic in mice and to cut back irritation in lab experiments. However no convincing knowledge counsel it’s an efficient ache reliever in people.

What does the FDA say about these merchandise?

The FDA doesn’t immediately consider the protection and effectiveness of merchandise like these, however it may possibly encourage or require a recall if a product is deemed unsafe. The Federal Commerce Fee oversees promoting of over-the-counter therapies like these. Each businesses could also be unable to maintain up with the sheer quantity of merchandise available on the market.

The underside line

Normally, the makers of well-studied merchandise with confirmed advantages are fairly prepared to share outcomes of research demonstrating effectiveness. The truth that none of those product makers do is cause for skepticism.

If you happen to’re already utilizing Blue-Emu, Australian Dream, or Theraworx, and it’s clearly working nicely for you, that’s nice! However there appears to be little proof that will predict this end result.

And in case you’re contemplating attempting one in every of these merchandise for the primary time, you may suppose twice. The adverts could also be convincing, however, in my opinion, the proof is just not.

Comply with me on Twitter @RobShmerling

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