Low vitamin D tied to back pain in older women

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older women who aren’t getting enough vitamin D appear to be at risk for suffering from back pain, new research shows.

“Given that low vitamin D status is fairly prevalent in older adults and that there are significant functional consequences to untreated chronic pain, these findings argue strongly for querying adults about their pain and potentially screening older women with significant back pain for vitamin D deficiency,” Dr. Gregory E. Hicks of the University of Delaware in Newark and his colleagues write.

Among older people, vitamin D deficiency has been tied to a number of health problems, including an increased risk of bone fracture, Hicks and colleagues note in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Lack of the vitamin could also, theoretically, contribute to musculoskeletal pain, they add, although research on vitamin D deficiency and pain syndromes has yielded mixed results.

To investigate the relationship, Hicks and his colleagues looked at blood levels of vitamin D in 958 people 65 and older. Fifty-eight percent of the women in the study, and 27 percent of the men, had at least some moderate pain in at least one region of the body.

For men, there was no relationship between vitamin D levels and pain. Women with vitamin D deficiency, on the other hand, were nearly twice as likely to have back pain that was moderate or worse, but vitamin D status wasn’t related to pain in other parts of the body.

The gender- and back-specific effects of vitamin D found in the study could be because lack of the vitamin can cause osteomalacia, or bone softening, which is more common in women and often manifests itself as low back pain, the researchers say.

But before vitamin D supplementation can be widely recommended for treating back pain, they add, randomized controlled trials should be undertaken to determine if giving people the vitamin is indeed helpful.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, May 2008.