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Devil's Claw - A Natural Alternative to Bute for Chronic Pain

Harpagophytum procumbens, or Devil’s Claw has long been used as a traditional treatment for arthritis. Devil’s Claw is a plant from South Africa. The root is extracted and used as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. One of the best things about Devil’s Claw is that it has fewer side effects than conventional treatments for arthritis.

Conventional treatment (analgesics and the use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, NSAIDS) is prophylactic, aimed at decreasing pain and improving function. However long term use of NSAIDS is associated with a high incidence of adverse events (gastrointestinal tract symptoms). A safer alternative treatment would therefore be beneficial.

Both anecdotal evidence and recent studies have implicated the potential of the herbal remedy Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) for the treatment of painful, chronic arthritic type conditions (Ernst and Chrubasik, 2000). Devil's Claw is an extract obtained from the root of the Harpagophytum procumbens plant, a member of the sesame family found in the Kalahari region in South Africa. It has been shown that this herbal remedy has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects (Baghdikian et al, 1997). Currently Devil's Claw is marketed for use as a supportive treatment of degenerative arthrosis, is not a Medicines Control Agency licensed product and is freely available to the general public in health food stores and pharmacies.

S Chrubasik

Further, studies show that it is as effective, or maybe more effective than pharmaceuticals in treating pain. In a systematic review of the literature on devil’s claw, excluding studies with inadequate methodology, Versus Arthritis concluded:

One high-quality study compared the level of pain improvement in participants randomly selected to receive devil’s claw with that of participants assigned to take phenylbutazone (an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Participants taking devil’s claw reported fewer side-effects and had slightly better pain improvement.

Another high-quality study compared the overall disease-related symptoms in two groups of participants who were randomly assigned to take either devil’s claw or diacerhein, a conventional therapy for osteoarthritis. Improvements were similar in both groups following treatment, but participants given devil’s claw experienced fewer side-effects.

You can see that review of the literature here

Being an analgesic and anti-inflammatory it is very useful for managing pain and inflammation in horses and ponies with chronic laminitis. You can use it long-term as an alternative to bute or other NSAIDS that often cause undesirable side-effects like gastric ulcers when used long term.

We use devil’s claw in three products:

Sound Advice Relief Mix Plus, which includes MSM and Glucosamine,

A downside of devil’s claw is that, being a natural product – like any herbal remedies - batches will vary in their effectiveness, and we are not able to predict which batches will be stronger or weaker than others. Another is that, being a root product, it is susceptible to clumping when it absorbs moisture.

When we blend devil’s claw with glucosamine in our joint products, the two ingredients can bind together and become hardened when subjected to moisture. We encourage our customers to transfer their Relief Mix into one, or even several air tight containers, particularly if they are buying in bulk. Keep the portions you are not using in your pantry, rather than leaving the bag open on a shelf in your feed/tack room.

There are no studies on the use of Devil's Claw on pregnant on lactating mares. This does not mean that it is either safe or not safe, simply that there is no data on that. Similarly, we were not able to find studies on long-term use, since most clinical trials don’t examine treatment periods of longer than a few months. Most studies conclude that longer trials are needed. That being said, we have been feeding our own elderly horses and dogs Sound Advice Relief Mixes for ten years plus. While only a sample size of two, both of our working dogs lived to 18 years, and maintained good soundness. We have many, many clients who have used these supplements to help manage chronic pain in their horses and dogs for five years and longer with no apparent side effects.

Devil’s Claw is swabbable, so we would advise you to stop feeding your horse any of the Sound Advice Relief Mixes at least a week before competing. However, we would also advise that if your horse is unable to perform at a high level without devil’s claw, it might be time to consider lighter duties for that animal.

We also have a joint mix that does not contain any swabbable ingredients - Sound Advice Turmeric Joint Mix. We have covered the procs and cons of Turmeric in this blog post.


Devil's claw extract as an example of the effectiveness of herbal analgesics

Orthopade July 2004

S Chrubasik

Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens DC): an evidence-based systematic review by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration

J Herb Pharmacother June 2006

Thomas Brendler , Joerg Gruenwald, Catherine Ulbricht, Ethan Basch,

A Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Devil's Claw for Pain Associated With Degenerative Musculoskeletal Diseases, Rheumatoid, and Osteoarthritis

Holistic Nursing Practice July 2007

Denner, Sallie Stoltz BSN, CRNA

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) as a Treatment for Osteoarthritis: A Review of Efficacy and Safety

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Volume 12, Number 10, 2006

S. Brien, G. Lewith, G. McGregor

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