Living with Chronic Back Pain? Check Your Vitamin D Level

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I have found that many of my patients who suffer from chronic back pain (caused by strains, osteoarthritis or herniated disc, for example) have a deficiency of vitamin D.

We don’t often associate a deficiency of this vitamin with lower back pain, but it makes sense. Low vitamin D can cause the painful condition known as osteomalacia, the softening of bone. It also can interfere with normal muscle development, and you need healthy muscles to hold in place the 32 bones that make up the spinal column.

Several studies in the last few years have shown that low vitamin D levels can exacerbate back pain. In one study, American and Italian doctors found that a lack of vitamin D doubled the risk for chronic back pain (the cause was not specified) in older women, but not in men. That’s not entirely surprising because women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with osteomalacia.

In another report, published in Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, a doctor described six patients who had experienced severe and sometimes disabling back pain, including two who had back surgery that failed to resolve their pain. All of the patients improved after taking 1,000 international units (IU) to 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily for at least three to six weeks. One patient had a recurrence of back pain after he stopped taking vitamin D but found relief when he resumed supplementation.

My Advice: Three of every four Americans do not get enough of this important nutrient, so make sure that your physician checks your vitamin D level. I routinely measure my patients’ levels of vitamin D — and, on average, I recommend that patients take at least 2,000 IU daily. This supplementation usually reduces back pain.

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–Mark Stengler, N.M.D.

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