Is Vitamin D a Wonder Pill for Back Pain?

The “sunshine pill” has a host of benefits, including helping seasonal depression and even COVID-19. But what about back pain? Hear from our Mayo Clinic expert.

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Can “the sunshine pill,” as vitamin D supplements are often known, help your back pain? In recent years, vitamin D has been praised for its myriad benefits, such as treating seasonal affective disorder and regulating calcium for healthier bones.

Woman soaking in vitamin D to help prevent back painCan vitamin D help prevent back pain? Our expert weighs in.

More recently, the supplement has been touted as being an ally in the fight against COVID-19. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that a vitamin D deficiency can lower the effectiveness of one’s immune system, something that can make a person more susceptible to COVID-19. 

But have you heard that vitamin D has the potential to lessen back pain? For example, one 2010 study confirmed a positive association between vitamin D deficiency and various types of nonspecific bone pain. In addition to its mood and immunity-boosting benefits, perhaps taking a daily vitamin D supplement could alleviate painful, bone-related conditions, including back pain.

Andrew Jagim, PhD, Director of Sports Medicine Research at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, WI, is here to answer the question: Could vitamin D really help back pain?

What Is Vitamin D, Exactly?

“Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and hormone-like compound that plays multiple roles within the body,” Dr. Jagim details. He says that most notably, vitamin D is known for its role in maintaining musculoskeletal health, adding that in the past two decades, low vitamin D levels have also been identified as a risk factor and associated with several chronic diseases, including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Fractures
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Severe asthma and rickets in children

Does Vitamin D Help Back Pain?

According to Dr. Jagim, although vitamin D has been proven to promote skeletal muscle metabolism, improve bone health, maintain immune function, and even reduce risk factors for certain cancers, the jury is still out as to its back pain-relieving traits.

He explains, “Despite vitamin D providing anti-inflammatory properties, there does not appear to be sufficient clinical evidence to support the use of vitamin D for the treatment of chronic low back pain.”

As with many alternative treatments, Dr. Jagim says that future randomized controlled trials with adequate sample sizes and appropriate methodology are warranted. Although there are often strong associations between vitamin D deficiency and chronic health issues, it’s important to understand that “association” doesn’t mean “cause.” . As such, supplementing with vitamin D may not always resolve the issue.

While more studies need to be done around vitamin D and back pain, this much has been substantiated: vitamin D supplementation has been shown to provide “some anti-inflammatory benefits” as Dr. Jagim says which may ease general soreness resulting from low-grade inflammation.

He goes on to say, “[Vitamin D] has also been shown to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and subsequent levels of muscle soreness following intense workouts.” So, if your back tends to ache after a hard run or weight-lifting session, vitamin D just might be a help to you.

Should You Pop a Vitamin D Supplement for Back Pain?

Even though there needs to be more studies centered on vitamin D and its effect on back pain, there’s one thing for certain: Taking a daily vitamin D supplement, within recommended dosages, likely has little downside with low risk , especially when there are so many confirmed benefits.

First, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and ask for a blood test to determine your vitamin D levels. This can verify if you have a deficiency and how much vitamin D you would likely be needing totake each day.

Dr. Jagim says that the go-to for getting vitamin D into your system is “increased sunlight exposure,” but this may not be an option for some people, depending on the time of year and location. Therefore, supplementing with vitamin D may be your best bet.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all dose recommendation, as it is heavily dependent upon baseline serum vitamin D levels,” he says.

He notes that generally, the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 International Units (IU’s) per day.

“However, in some situations, such as old age or those living in upper regions of the United States in winter months, higher intakes of 700 to 2,000 IU’s per day or even higher in some instances may be required to improve vitamin D insufficiency,” he adds.

As always, be sure to speak to your doctor before taking a supplement.

Potential Side Effects of Vitamin D Supplements

As with any supplement, there are possible side effects when taking vitamin D.

“Vitamin D can be toxic or result in side effects if taken in excess, which is why it is important to get labs checked or consult with a physician prior to supplementation,” Dr. Jagim advises. “Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, and heart rhythm problems.”

The Verdict on Vitamin D for Back Pain 

As mentioned, there need to be additional studies done concerning vitamin D and back pain, so don’t make that your main goal when taking this supplement. But taking it daily is still wise because of its many other benefits, which may or may not include pain relief.

“Vitamin D is incredibly important for overall health with hundreds of physiological roles within the human body,” Dr. Jagim says. “While evidence supporting a direct benefit of vitamin D supplementation in the treatment of chronic lower back pain may be lacking, it is still a good idea to maintain optimal vitamin D levels as they are important for overall health.”

Updated on: 02/18/21
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