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Omega-3 Relieves Neck and Back Pain

Omega-3Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may be effective for relieving neck and low back pain, according to the results of a short-term trial reported in the April issue of Surgical Neurology.

"The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is a well-established effective therapy for both acute and chronic nonspecific neck and back pain," write Joseph Charles Maroon, MD, and Jeffrey W. Bost, PAC, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Extreme complications, including gastric ulcers, bleeding, myocardial infarction, and even deaths, are associated with their use. An alternative treatment with fewer side effects that also reduces the inflammatory response and thereby reduces pain is believed to be omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) found in fish oil."

250 patients who had been evaluated by a neurosurgeon and found to have non-surgical neck or back pain, were asked to take omega-3 EFAs (EPA and DHA) found in fish oil supplements. At the outset of the study, all of the subjects were taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to address their neck and back pain.

Of the 250 patients, 125 returned the questionnaire. Average duration of fish oil therapy was 75 days. Dosage of EFAs was 1200 mg in 78% of participants and 2400 mg in 22%.

Reported benefits were:

  • Discontinuation of prescription NSAIDs in 59% of patients
  • Improvement in overall pain in 60% of patients
  • Improvement in joint pain in 60% of patients
  • Satisfaction with the level of improvement in 80% of patients

There were no significant adverse effects reported, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil supplements.

"Our results mirror other controlled studies that compared ibuprofen and omega-3 EFAs demonstrating equivalent effect in reducing arthritic pain," the authors write. "Omega-3 EFA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain in this selective group. That close to two thirds of patients could discontinue NSAIDs is certainly provocative."

Surg Neurol. 2006;65:326-331



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