Harvard Health Ad Watch Muscle Aches, Aches & Cramps – Do Well-Advertised Remedies Actually Work?
Woman applies cream to her painful joints and says it has changed her life. Two sports heroes sing the praises of an over-the-counter cream for their aches and pains. Famous Doctor Says Spray Foam Can End Your Daily Suffering.
You’ve probably seen testimonials like these in OTC pain reliever ads. But is there strong evidence to back up these claims? Let’s focus on three products with catchy names and high-spinning marketing claims on TV.
- Blue-Emu: Marketed for muscle, joint or back pain. “… Get back to the game without feeling like a locker room. You can feel 100% confident using our products to help soothe tired muscles and joints.”
- Australian dream: Marketed for joint or back pain. “People with arthritis and lifelong athletes rely on our joint pain cream for guaranteed comfort. Applied directly to the painful area, this natural blend of ingredients works quickly and effectively.”
- Theraworx: Marketed for sore muscles, muscle cramps or joint pain. “Clinically proven to stop muscle cramps before they start.”“Provides fast relief from muscle cramps, spasms, and post-cramp pain – most people get relief within minutes!”
What are these seemingly miraculous treatments?
Each is applied directly to the skin (topically). Theraworx is a foam; the others come in the form of creams or sprays. According to their manufacturers, here is the list of ingredients:
- Blue-Emu: An “original” version contains over 20 ingredients, including glucosamine, aloe vera and emu oil – but no active ingredients are listed! For Blue-Emu Maximum Arthritis Pain Relief and Blue-Emu Ultra with Hemp Seed Oil, the active ingredient is trolamine salicylate, a close relative of aspirin. Blue-Emu Lidocaine Dry Patch lists Lidocaine as an active ingredient; it is similar to novocaine, a numbing medicine.
- Australian dream: Emu oil is also listed here, but the active ingredient is histamine hydrochloride, a topical pain reliever. According to its manufacturers, this ingredient temporarily increases the size of your blood vessels for greater circulation, which “safely and effectively reduces pain in the joint or muscle.” (By the way, this product is made in Kentucky, not Australia.)
- Theraworx Relief of joint discomfort and inflammation lists frankincense oil, a boswellia tree oil (also known as frankincense oil), as an active ingredient. Twenty other ingredients, including calcium, aloe, and grapefruit extract, are also listed. You will need to wear a compression sleeve over the painful joint after applying the product. Theraworx Relief of muscle cramps and spasms has magnesium sulfate as an active ingredient. While magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramps, most non-pregnant people taking oral magnesium supplements do not benefit. And, there is no evidence to suggest that most people with common muscle cramps, such as nighttime muscle cramps, are deficient in magnesium or that applying the mineral to the skin fixes a muscle problem.
Are they keeping their promises?
It depends on how you measure success: through customer ratings, website reviews, or the results of studies in people with symptoms like yours?
Although rodent studies or laboratory experiments are available, none of the manufacturers’ advertisements or websites provide adequate details of studies showing that their products work in humans.
- Theraworks Muscle Cramps and Spasms Relief: Two studies mentioned in an advertisement show improvement in muscle cramps and spasms in 60% of 84 participants. But it is not possible to trace the actual studies or interpret their results. How long did it take for the treatment to work? Does it prevent cramps or does it just treat them? How long did the study last? Has Theraworx been compared to a placebo? No idea! (Healthcare professionals can get more information, but only on request – and only if they provide personal information and a medical license number).
A two-week study of 50 paid volunteers noted modest improvement in leg cramps, sleep, quality of life, and depression in people using Theraworx Relief. But it was funded by the product makers and was not published in a mainstream or well-respected medical journal.
- Blue-Emu: The active ingredient, trolamine salicylate, has been studied in small, short-term trials, like this one from 1982 and one from 1994. The results were mixed at best and do not support their claims. advertising.
- Australian Dream: Although it is not FDA approved, its marketing states that it “contains an FDA approved ingredient”. This is because histamine dihydrochloride is a topical pain reliever approved decades ago, despite little research showing that it actually relieves pain. Their advertisements and website do not provide any human study of the product to treat joint or back pain. It’s not even clear why topical histamine would provide pain relief. The dilation of the blood vessels mentioned in the advertisements is not known to relieve joint or muscle pain. In fact, one of the most effective pain treatments – applying ice – tightens blood vessels.
And what about emu oil? Blue-Emu and Australian Dream contain it. Some studies have investigated it for wound healing in mice and for reducing inflammation in lab experiments. But there is no convincing data to suggest that it is an effective pain reliever in humans.
What does the FDA say about these products?
The FDA does not directly assess the safety and effectiveness of products like these, but it can encourage or require a recall if a product is found to be unsafe. The Federal Trade Commission oversees the advertising of over-the-counter therapies like these. Both agencies may be unable to keep up with the sheer volume of products in the market.
The bottom line
Usually, manufacturers of well-researched products with proven benefits are more than willing to share the results of studies demonstrating their effectiveness. The fact that none of these product manufacturers do is a reason for skepticism.
If you are already using Blue-Emu, Australian Dream, or Theraworx and it clearly works for you, that’s great! But there seems to be little evidence to predict this outcome.
And if you are thinking of trying any of these products for the first time, you might think twice. Ads can be convincing, but, in my opinion, the evidence is not.
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