Vitamin D for Musculoskeletal Pain
Recent research has shown that most people who suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain (like fibromyalgia) are deficient in vitamin D. It further showed that when they started getting enough vitamin D, their pain improved - and in some cases vanished completely.
When vitamin D is broken down by the liver and kidneys, it functions as a hormone and works throughout the body, affecting muscles, tissues, nerves, joints and even the brain. Vitamin D is also essential in order for your body to properly absorb calcium and keep your bones strong. A lack of vitamin D can cause problems leading to pain in all of these areas.
Vitamin D is reported to be especially good for back pain. Other conditions it may be helpful for include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
How Do We Get Vitamin D?
The main natural source of vitamin D is the sun. However, many factors may reduce the effectiveness of the vitamin D we get from the sun. As we age, our skin does not make vitamin D as effectively as it did when we were younger. If you spend most of your time indoors, wear sunscreen, cover exposed skin with clothing, or live in a colder climate, you are probably not getting enough sun to make an adequate amount of vitamin D. And very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, although some (like milk) are "fortified" with it.
Without enough natural sources for vitamin D, we’re left with the need to take supplements to make up the difference.
Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2 and D3.
D3 is recommended because it works best for most people.
It may also be listed as "cholecalciferol" in the ingredients on the label.
How Much Vitamin D Should We Take?
The standard recommended daily amount of vitamin D for healthy adults is 1,000 IU. However, researchers say that people with chronic pain conditions should take up to 2,000 IU each day. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any new treatment - even over-the-counter supplements - to make sure they don’t have a negative interaction with other medications you’re taking. And ask about a blood test to determine whether you even have a vitamin D deficiency before spending money on supplements.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about whether you also should be taking calcium. Since vitamin D helps you make better use of the calcium you have, you may not need it. However, if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, you may need both.
When Will I Feel Better?
Don’t expect vitamin D to work quickly like an analgesic. It takes time to correct a nutritional deficiency. It will probably take several weeks and may take up to nine months for you to feel the full effect. So, be prepared to be patient. In addition to lessening pain, vitamin D can also help you:
- Reduce the amount of pain medication you need to take.
- Be less depressed or nervous.
- Have more energy and less fatigue.
- Improve your overall feeling of well-being.
For more information about the results of this vitamin D research for you and your doctor, you can download these files:
Brochure for patients explaining what vitamin D is, how it works, and how it can help.
Practitioner Briefing - A 7-page summary with clinical guidance for healthcare providers.
Comprehensive Report - A 50-page report on the findings about Vitamin D for healthcare providers.
Source: Pain Treatment Topics, June 2008. By Leavitt, SB.
Karen is the Co-Founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.