Vitamin D and Joint Pain

Medical professionals agree that if levels of vitamin D are adequate in patients, they can experience pain relief for hip and knee pain. This is because it is a known fact that vitamin D is vital for the support of muscle, cartilage and bone function. Additionally, some research has now shown that vitamin D supplementation in either too low or too high dosages will offer limited results. This is why it is vital to consult with a knowledgeable physician if you want to use vitamin D to diminish joint pain.

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. This is because our bodies produce it naturally when exposed to the sun. The vitamin is an essential nutrient and it can also be found in mackerel and salmon (oily fish), and in fortified baby formula, milks, juices and cereal. However, as our lifestyle habits change, many people are now experiencing vitamin D deficiencies. It is believed that some 75% of people in this country do not have adequate levels of vitamin D and this can possibly lead to various chronic conditions, which include arthritis.

Vitamin D Can Help Reduce Pain

A recent study in Italy demonstrated that there is a link between low levels of vitamin D and a range of pain syndromes associated with osteoarthritis. This was particularly true for those who suffered from pain in the joints of the hands and the hips.

Another study demonstrated that people who suffer from fibromyalgia syndrome, which is characterized by chronic fatigue and pain, also find relief in taking vitamin D supplements. Significant reductions in pain were noticed, so much so, in fact, that doctors are now considering it as a more effective and more affordable option than conventional treatments.

It has long been known that vitamin D is absolutely vital to the proper development and maintenance of the musculoskeletal system. People with higher levels of vitamin D also have greater mineral density in their bones. They also have improved neuromuscular function and experience less frequent osteoporotic fractures.

A recent study was completed on 313 patients that were in the process of having spinal fusion surgery. The study was completed by Washing University School of Medicine in St. Louis’ orthopedic surgeons. They found that over 50% of the patients had a vitamin D deficiency and 25% were severely deficient.

Meanwhile, the Clinical Rheumatology journal has recently published a research article that showed that vitamin D deficiency was incredibly common among new patients. In fact, of 231 new patients, 70% had a deficiency while 26% had a severe deficiency.

The Research on Arthritis and Vitamin D

Significant research has now shown that there is an important role to play for vitamin D in joint health. It is now believed that low levels of vitamin D can increase the chances of people developing arthritis and other rheumatologic conditions. A range of different studies have found that many people who suffer from hip and knee osteoarthritis also have low vitamin D levels. One study looked at more than 2,000 people and found that those who had a deficiency also experienced the most disabling symptoms associated with the condition.

It is also a known fact that people who suffer from arthritis also get less sun exposure. This is because they are more likely to be housebound. However, the study demonstrated that the vitamin D deficiency was present at the onset of the arthritis, meaning it was there first.

Further studies have taken place and these showed that women in particular who live in the most northern states, were at more risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Because of their northern geographical location, they have less sun exposure than those who live in the more southern states. The Nurses’ Health Study also completed a report that showed the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis was far high in women in Northeastern parts of the country.

Diagnostics Categories for Vitamin D Deficiency

The table below highlights the diagnostics categories for a deficiency of vitamin D.

Category of Condition Percentage of Patients with Vitamin D Deficiency
Connective tissue disease/inflammatory joint diseases 69.00%
Rheumatism of soft tissues 77.00%
Osteoarthritis 62.00%
Musculoskeletal back pain, non-specific 75.00%
Osteoporosis 71.00%

Looking at the statistics above, it will come as no surprise that vitamin D deficiency is clearly listed as a risk factor for various joint pain problems. This is also because pain is never a solitary symptom. Rather, it is caused by inflammation and an impaired immune system, often caused by improper nutrition. Using vitamin D supplementation as a form of treatment is proving to be very successful as well.

Guidelines for Vitamin D Levels

The guidelines for vitamin D levels are explained in the table below.

Current Blood Level Recommended Daily Intake
45 nanograms per milligram Between 2,000 and 4,000 UI per day. However, the exact amount varies depending on where you live, what your skin color is, how much time you spend outside, your weight and age, the season and so on. This is a maintenance level, which means you may only need supplementation during the winter months.
35 to 45 nanograms per milligram 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3, once per day, for three months. Make sure you are physician supervised. Blood levels should be checked again after three months.
35 nanograms per milligram or below 10,000 IU of Vitamin D3, while supervised by a physician. Blood should be tested again after three months. It usually takes six months to build up the proper levels of vitamin D in people with severe deficiencies. Once the levels are right, however, you can lower the dosages to between 2,000 IU and 4,000 IU daily.

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hugely important vitamin, not just in terms of protecting you from joint pain. Researchers believe it also helps to reduce certain cancers, autoimmune disease, bone fractures, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, the flu and depression. Clearly, therefore, it is vital that you get enough of it. Below are some tips to help you increase your levels of vitamin D.

• Go out into the sunshine. While we have been conditioned to believe we need to cover ourselves in SPF 50 as soon as the sun shows its face, the reality is that, while this may help bring down the chances of having skin cancer, your vitamin D absorption will also be reduced (95% less absorption when you put on SPF 8). While it is true that the sun can harm, you only need exposure on your hands and face for around 15 minutes per day, three times a week. Just be sure that you do not get sunburn, however.
• Take a supplement. There are lots of supplements that guarantee they will make you feel better. None of them will make you feel worse, so choosing the cheapest options is best. However, do be aware that there is such a thing as too much vitamin D, so do seek advice from your physician before deciding to supplement.
• Get tested. If you do experience any of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency (weak bones, depression, gastrointestinal problems, frequent urination and chronic pain), you must make sure that you go see your medical professional to get tested. This will tell you whether a deficiency actually lies at the heart of your problems and, if so, what you can do about it.

Vitamin D occurs naturally in some foods and is added to a number of fortified foods. Yet, getting sufficient levels through diet alone is all but impossible. This is why you need to commit to getting the right amount of sun exposure and to supplement your diet as well.

Resources and References:

Vitamin D: Why We Need It, How to Get It – Vitamin D for arthritis. (Arthritis Foundation)
Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Osteoarthritis in Older People: The Progetto Veneto Anziani Study – Relationship between vitamin D and osteorthritis. (NIH.gov)
Vitamin D Supplements Reduce Pain in Fibromyalgia Sufferers – Vitamin D for fibromyalgia. (AlphaGalileo.org)