Many people feel extra soreness and aches in their backs during winter months because of a lack of vitamin D. The body makes vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, but this essential vitamin for keeping bones healthy is in short supply during late fall and winter.
Up to 8 out of 10 people will have back pain in their lifetimes. In many cases, there is no evidence of any injury, disease or bone problem like a slipped disk. A review of clinical research from Pain Treatment Topics found that help may be available from vitamin D.
“Our examination of the research, which included numerous clinical studies, found that patients with chronic back pain usually had inadequate levels of vitamin D,” Stewart B. Leavitt, MA, PhD, executive director of Pain Treatment Topics and author of the report, said in a news release. “When sufficient vitamin D supplementation was provided, their pain either vanished or was at least helped to a significant extent.”
The report, “Vitamin D – A Neglected ‘Analgesic’ for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain,” includes the following points:
- Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and bone health. Among other things, inadequate vitamin D intake can result in a softening of bone surfaces, called osteomalacia, which causes pain. The lower back seems to be particularly vulnerable.
- In one study of 360 patients with chronic back pain, all of them were found to have inadequate levels of vitamin D. After taking vitamin D supplements for 3 months, symptoms were improved in 95% of the patients.
- The currently recommended adequate intake of vitamin D — up to 600 IU per day — is outdated and too low. According to newer research, most children and adults need at least 1,000 IU per day, and people with chronic back pain would benefit from 2,000 IU or more per day of supplemental vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol).
- Vitamin D supplements interact with few medicines or other agents, and generally are safe unless taken in high doses — such as 10,000 IU or more daily — for a long period of time. However, Leavitt suggests consulting a health care professional before starting a new dietary supplement.
- Vitamin D supplements usually have no side effects and typically cost as little as 7 to 10 cents per day.
The Pain Treatment Topics Web site offers the comprehensive research report, as well as a shorter practitioner briefing for health care providers, and a patient brochure with information about vitamin D and how it can help in relieving aches and pains.
Leavitt said that vitamin D should not be viewed as a cure for all back pain conditions, and it is not necessarily a replacement for other pain-relief treatments.
“While further research would be helpful, extra vitamin D should be considered for all persons during winter months, and especially for those who have back aches and pains,” he said.