Vitamin D for Back Pain

Could taking a vitamin be the cure for your aching back? It might be if you are among the millions of Americans who are vitamin D deficient. Studies show that patients with chronic back pain, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are very frequently also low on vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is a hormone that helps our bones absorb calcium and phosphorous from our intestines. These minerals are important for bone strength and health. We get our body's vitamin D supply from sunshine, certain foods and multivitamins. If we don't absorb or ingest enough, our bones are at risk for damage and pain. 

It used to be that people spent plenty of time working and playing outdoors in the sun. With the development of sunscreen and prevalence of indoor work however, few people now absorb enough vitamin D to supply their body's needs. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that vitamin D levels have plummeted among all U.S. ages, races, and ethnic groups over the past two decades. Reports of chronic pain conditions, including back pain are on the rise. Vitamin D deficiency affects all ages, races and ethnicities. Common symptoms for vitamin D deficiency include symmetric low back pain, muscle weakness and aches, and throbbing bone pain.

The good news is that studies also show when chronic back pain patients' replenish their vitamin D supplies, their symptoms frequently reduce or disappear. It also strengthened their bones and protected them from future deterioration. 

How Much Vitamin D Should You Take? 

Start with spending more time in the sun, without sunscreen. Fifteen to twenty minutes per day should be enough to maintain vitamin D levels.  If you live in a non-sunny climate or you've already been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, sunshine will probably not be enough.

Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and easy to take. Nutritionists recommend 800 to 1000 IU (international units) per day for most people. Those who are deficient however, may require as much as 2000 IU per day. Vitamin D is also available in fortified milk, cereals and breads.

Talk with your doctor about whether vitamin D might be effective for treating your back pain and how much you can safely take. Side effects are minimal and this supplement is generally well tolerated. Vitamin D doesn't adversely interact with other medications unless taken at very high doses for extended periods of time.


Archives of Internal Medicine

Johns Hopkins Institute
The Bone-Protecting Benefits of Vitamin D

National Institutes of Health
Vitamin D fact sheet