Willow bark from key varieties of the willow tree, including white and black willows, has been used since the time of Hippocrates to treat pain and inflammation, especially low back pain. Since low back pain is the leading cause of disability for people in the U.S., finding a holistic, alternative treatment option is incredibly important.

Willow bark contains salicin, a compound similar to aspirin, that reduces inflammation.

Other components of willow bark, such as its polyphenols and flavonoids, have other antioxidant, antiseptic, and immune boosting properties. While the effects of these chemicals do take longer to work than aspirin, willow bark treatment may be longer lasting.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, willow bark was empirically tested for its effects on low back pain. Nearly 200 individuals with low back pain were given doses of both high and low amounts of willow bark, along with no dosage for a control group. Individuals who received high doses of willow bark had a significant decrease in pain symptoms, with less pain improvements in those who took a lower dose. The researchers concluded that willow bark extract was a “useful and safe treatment for low back pain.”

Before taking willow bark for your own pain needs, talk to your doctor.

There are some potential side effects and allergies associated with willow bark. Special populations, like those with asthma, diabetes, gout, and stomach ulcers, may also be recommended against using it. Children under 16 should not take it as a rare illness, Reye syndrome, has been associated with the use of aspirin in children.

As with every supplement, always be aware of how it may interact with any other medications or supplements you’re already taking. Like aspirin, willow bark may interact with anticoagulants, diuretics, and beta blockers.

If cleared by your doctor, willow bark can be an effective treatment option for low back pain, headaches, osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, and bursitis. You can take it as tea in a dried form, or as a powdered herb or tincture. In the American Journal of Medicine study, doses of 240 mg were found to be most effective.

Have you used willow bark for low back pain? 

Image by Sigfrid Lundberg via Flickr

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