Winter Back Pain? Low Vitamin D May Be to Blame

Check your vitamin D level if you are experiencing chronic pain this winter.

By Maggie Spilner
Fitness, Walking and Yoga Expert

December 17, 2009
Is it possible that your chronic winter backache could be due to the lack of sun exposure during the fall and winter months?

Based on a review of research by Stewart Leavitt, PhD, Executive Director of Pain Treatment Topics, vitamin D may be just the “pain pill” your body is looking for.

Leavitt found that patients with chronic back pain usually had inadequate vitamin D levels. And when they were given adequate vitamin D supplementation, their pain either vanished or was significantly relieved.

This could be a simple solution to years of nagging pain. Get your D levels checked and if they’re low, start supplementing. Work with your doctor to see just how much vitamin D it takes to get your levels in the optimum range. Experts consider 30 to 60 ng/ml  of 25-hydroxyvitamin D as the preferred range.

Dr Leavitt’s report, "Vitamin D: A Neglected 'Analgesic' for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain," which was peer-reviewed by a panel of experts, includes important points, for instance:

While many people suffer from chronic back aches and soreness during the winter, many times there doesn’t seem to be any injury, disease or bone problem to justify it.

In a 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.

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.

You may know that current suggested intake of vitamin D (600 IU a day) is outdated. Many people need much more, especially during late fall and winter in the northern regions of the world. Vitamin D is safe in doses up to 10,000 IU a day (and some experts say much more) and has few interactions with medicines. It’s very inexpensive and certainly worth a try.

Of course that doesn’t mean you should take vitamin D and forget about exercise, stretching, good posture, or that you won’t need some additional analgesic for your particular pain problem. But it’s certainly a healthy road to travel. It won’t irritate your stomach or damage your liver, like some pain medications. And there are so many other benefits associated with maintaining optimal levels!

The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: We’re seeing more and more benefits of maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, particularly during the fall and winter when many people don’t get enough sun exposure to make their own vitamin D. A nagging backache may be your body’s warning that your levels are low. Commonly recommended dosages range from 1,000 to 5,000 IU a day. A specific blood test for the major circulating form of vitamin D, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, can show how well your dosage is working.