Skip to content

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Chronic Pain: Does Vitamin D Help?

Researchers are exploring a possible link between low levels of vitamin D and chronic pain.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Not getting enough vitamin D in your system may be linked to chronic pain.

Over the past 10 years, several researchers have found an association between extremely low vitamin D levels and chronic, general pain that doesn’t respond to treatment.

Recommended Related to Pain Management

Muscle Spasms, Cramps, and Charley Horse

You could be out for a run or drifting off to sleep when it happens: The muscles of your calf or foot suddenly become hard, tight, and extremely painful. You are having a muscle cramp. Sometimes called charley horses -- particularly when they are in the calf muscles -- cramps are caused by muscle spasms, involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. In addition to the foot and calf muscles, other muscles prone to spasms include the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen, and muscles...

Read the Muscle Spasms, Cramps, and Charley Horse article > >

Many Americans are running low on vitamin D. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2009 showed that vitamin D levels have plummeted among all U.S. ages, races, and ethnic groups over the past two decades.

But does not having enough vitamin D cause pain? That's not yet clear. But here's what you need to know about vitamin D and chronic pain.

Boosting Vitamin D, Easing Pain

Greg Plotnikoff, MD, senior consultant with the Allina Center for Health Care Innovations in Minnesota, still remembers the woman in her 40s who told him that he was the 30th doctor she’d seen.

“Twelve of them had told her she was crazy,” says Plotnikoff, formerly an associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “She had weakness, achiness, fatigue -- three pages worth of symptoms. Doctors had offered her antidepressants and seizure medications and all kinds of things that didn’t work. I checked her vitamin D levels -- and they came back barely measurable.”

After six months on an aggressive, high-dose prescription vitamin D replacement, the woman could cross off every symptom on her three-page list. “I knew I wasn’t crazy!” Plotnikoff says she told him.

That's just one woman. Her case doesn't mean vitamin D will erase pain for everyone.

However, Plotnikoff published a study in 2003 on 150 people in Minneapolis who came to a community health clinic complaining of chronic pain. Virtually all of them -- 93% -- had extremely low vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D blood levels of 30-40 ng/mL are considered ideal. The average level in Plotnikoff’s study was about 12, and some people had vitamin D levels so low they were undetectable.

“The group with the lowest levels of vitamin D were white women of childbearing age,” Plotnikoff says. “Most of them were dismissed by their doctors as depressed or whiners. They attributed their pain to an inability to manage stress. But after we replenished their vitamin D, these people said, ‘Woo hoo! I’ve got my life back!’”

Plotnikoff notes that vitamin D is a hormone. "Every tissue in our bodies has [vitamin] D receptors, including all bones, muscles, immune cells, and brain cells," he says.

And in March 2009, researchers at the Mayo Clinic published a study showing that patients with inadequate vitamin D levels who were taking narcotic pain drugs required nearly twice as much medication to control their pain as did patients with adequate D levels

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
illustration of nerves in hand
Slideshow
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Man holding handful of pills
Video
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
man with a migraine
Slideshow