Lack of vitamin D may not be associated with lower back pain,2 study finds

  • Lower back pain is considered the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • Past studies have linked a vitamin D deficiency to lower back pain.
  • A new study from researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany says there is no correlation between vitamin D deficiency and lower back pain.

Researchers estimate that about 619 million peopleTrusted Source around the world live with lower back pain.

This condition is also considered to be the leading cause of disabilityTrusted Source worldwide.

There are a number of reasons why a person may experience lower back pain, including strained or injured muscles, spinal damage, or underlying conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis.

Depending on the situation, a person’s lower back pain may be treated with a combination of medications, physical therapy, and/or surgery.

Previous research shows between 5%-10%Trusted Source of low back pain becomes chronic low back painTrusted Source lasting for more than 12 weeks, and 50% of people treated for low back pain have recurring episodes within one year.

Past studies have linked a deficiencyTrusted Source in vitamin D to lower back pain as this hormone is essential for healthy bones and regulating inflammation. Plus signs of vitamin D deficiency include pain in the bones, joints, and muscles.

Now, researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany report the opposite to be true — they say there is no correlation between vitamin D deficiency and lower back pain.

The study was recently published in the journal Nutrients.

No vitamin D, lower back pain link found

For this study, researchers analyzed information from the UK Biobank. They used data from 135,934 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 years.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank of over 500,000 people. All study participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 years old.

Scientists had access to vitamin D information on all participants, including their levels and whether or not they took a vitamin D or multivitamin supplement. They also collected information on any lower back pain diagnoses.

Scientists reported about 21.6% of all study participants had a vitamin D deficiency and about 4% regularly took a vitamin D supplement.

About 3.8% of study participants reported lower back pain the month before the study started. Another 3.3% were diagnosed with lower back pain for the first time during a median follow-up time of 8.5 years.

Upon analysis, researchers found that vitamin D deficiency and vitamin D supplementation were not associated with lower back pain. They believe this is partially due to the multifactorial nature of lower back pain.

Mixed results from previous research

Past studies examining a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and lower back pain have been mixed.

A study published in July 2018 found that low back pain severityTrusted Source increased in people deficient in vitamin D, while another study published in January 2019 reported that treating vitamin D deficiency may improveTrusted Source back pain in people who are overweight or obese.

Another study published in August 2019 discovered vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency can cause or worsenTrusted Source neck and back pain.

Research published in February 2021 indicated a high probabilityTrusted Source of vitamin D deficiency in the nonspecific chronic lower back pain population and also found a negative correlation between vitamin D status and pain severity.

However, there have been other studies reporting no link between vitamin D and lower back pain.

A study published in December 2020 concluded there was no relationshipTrusted Source between chronic lower back pain and vitamin D levels, and research published in March 2018 reported vitamin D supplementation was not more effectiveTrusted Source than placebo, no intervention, or other conservative/pharmacological interventions for lower back pain.

Vitamin D may not prevent chronic pain

After reviewing this study, Dr. Medhat Mikhael, a pain management specialist and medical director of the non-operative program at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, told Medical News Today he was not surprised by its findings.

“Treating patients with chronic or low back pain for a long time, we haven’t really (found) a link to prove that patients on supplemental vitamin D have prevented low back pain,” Dr. Mikhael explained. “We have a lot of patients on vitamin D supplements, but they have chronic low back pain.”

“The case is a little bit different for people that are in their advanced age or they are menopausal and they have (a) higher risk of osteoporosis and compression fracture and then they have a low level of vitamin D,” he continued.

“This is where we ask them to take the supplement to get adequate mineralization of their bone and keep their bone healthy. But low vitamin D or supplemental vitamin D did not prevent the development of low back pain,” he said.

For future research in this area, Dr. Mikhael said he would like to see if people who are premenopausal or have a genetic predisposition for bone loss would be helped if treated with vitamin D early on.

“I (want) to see if these patients (that) have been preemptively or early on treated adequately for any vitamin D deficiency if they can prevent the progress of bone loss and prevent the development of full-blown osteoporosis and become high risk for compression fractures,” he added.

90% of people will experience low back pain

Dr. Dante Implicito, department chair of Orthopedic Surgery and chief of Orthopedic Spinal Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, provided similar comments after reviewing this research.

“As is the case with the vast majority of vitamins and supplements, there is no underlying proven connection for the ailments they are heavily marketed as addressing,” Dr. Implicito told MNT. “This is the essence of the difference between stringent FDA drug safety and efficacy process and ‘nutritional supplementsTrusted Source‘ which are evaluated as foods and not at all refereed regarding their ‘medicinal or therapeutic’ claims.”

“Low back pain is ubiquitous. On the order of 90% of humans will experience low back pain in their lifetime. The symptom of low back pain is seen in a large multitude of conditions such as muscle strains, muscle deconditioning, cancer, disc injuries, arthritis, kidney stones, endometriosis, stress, etc. — the list goes on and on.”
— Dr. Dante Implicito

Dr. Implicito said many varied factors are important in making these actual underlying diagnoses and the presence of low back pain is only one consideration.

“Vitamin D is known to play an important role in bone health and is especially important in the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis,” he added. “It has not been shown, to my knowledge, to actually be ‘anti-inflammatory’ by any peer-reviewed scientific journal.”

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