Vitamin D is needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults. Growing evidence suggests it can cause back pain too.
Large observational studies have linked a vitamin D deficiency to chronic lower back pain.
One study examined the association between vitamin D levels and back pain in more than 9,000 older women.
The researchers found that those with a deficiency were more likely to have back pain, including severe back pain that limited their daily activities.
Interestingly, in another study linking back pain to a vitamin D deficiency, men were significantly more prone to have a deficiency compared to women.
In one controlled study, people with vitamin D deficiency were nearly twice as likely to experience bone pain in their legs, ribs or joints compared to those with blood levels in the normal range.
The study found a ‘significantly’ greater reduction in back pain disability
Another study looking at vitamin D supplementation bolsters these findings.
The study suggested vitamin D supplementation may improve back pain disability in vitamin D deficient and overweight or obese adults.
The study found a ‘significantly’ greater reduction in back pain disability scores in the vitamin D group compared with the placebo group.
Commenting on their findings, the study authors wrote: “Although treating severe vitamin D deficiency is recommended for optimising bone health, this study suggests it may also improve back pain.
“Hence, testing for vitamin D deficiency in those with back pain who are overweight or obese may be warranted.”
Who is at risk of a deficiency?
As the NHS noted, some people won’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight because they have very little or no sunshine exposure.
The Department of Health recommends that people take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they:
- Aren’t often outdoors – for example, if they’re frail or housebound
- Are in an institution like a care home
- Usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
- A person who has dark skin – for example if they have an African, African-Caribbean or south Asian background – they may also not get enough vitamin D from sunlight.
People who fit this profile should also consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year, advised the health body.
Taking too many vitamin D supplements over a long period of time can pose serious health risks, however. Exceeding the recommended dosage can cause too much calcium to build up in the body (hypercalcaemia).
This can weaken the bones and damage the kidneys and the heart.
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