At first glance, it is easy to overlook the struggles one faces when living with chronic pain. However, as an individual who has managed this condition for 15 years, I can attest to the burden this causes. Basic tasks such as standing for prolonged periods of time, gripping objects or simply finding a comfortable space to relax are a few of the challenges people face when living with chronic pain.
After 7 years and several failed attempts of managing my pain with a variety of medications, my condition did not begin to improve until my vitamin D deficiency was addressed. I consider myself one of the lucky few individuals who had a doctor progressive enough to recognize the importance of vitamin D on both immune system function and inflammation during a time when the research on vitamin D and chronic pain was still in it’s infancy.
Years later, there are dozens of studies that support this relationship. In fact, research has shown that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in patients with chronic pain. Furthermore, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to improve quality of life and decrease pain severity in those with chronic pain.
This knowledge has led researchers to ask the following question: What factors lead to physician ordered vitamin D testing and supplementation among their patients with chronic pain? A new study was conducted in Australia to evaluate this topic. The researchers hoped these findings would offer a guide for physicians to utilize when treating these patients.
The researchers from this study conducted an online survey for individuals at least 18 years old who experienced chronic pain for more than 3 months. The survey was distributed across various patient forum sites and shared via social media in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
The survey focused on the type of pain, beliefs and struggles the individuals faced and how they took action to manage their pain. Participants reported whether they had their vitamin D levels tested, if they were diagnosed as vitamin D deficient, if they supplemented with vitamin D to manage their pain and whether they were prescribed vitamin D by their doctor.
A total of 465 patients completed the survey. Here is what the researchers found:
- A total of 57% of participants had their vitamin D levels tested, and 40% had been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency.
- Of those who had their 25(OH)D levels tested, 60% were supplementing with vitamin D.
- Those who were unemployed, on employment leave or worked part-time work due to their pain were twice as almost likely to have their vitamin D levels tested (OR: 1.79; p = 0.03 and OR: 1.86; p = 0.04, respectively) and be prescribed vitamin D by their doctor than those who were employed full time (OR: 3.71; p = 0.01 and OR: 2.68; p = 0.08, respectively).
- A pain intensity score of > 6 on an 11 point scale was associated with a twofold increased risk of vitamin D deficiency (OR: 2.02; p = 0.01).
- Individuals over 60 years were 6 times as likely than those 50 or younger to be supplementing with vitamin D (OR: 6.08; p < 0.001).
- Vitamin D deficient individuals were 6 times more likely to supplement with vitamin D (OR: 6.63; p < 0.001).
- Oddly enough, vitamin D testing was not significantly associated with being prescribed a vitamin D supplement (OR: 1.49; p = 0.74).
The researchers concluded,
“Our results may have practical implications, as identifying factors associated with a risk of vitamin D deficiency could assist to minimize the concern of over-diagnosis and overtreatment of vitamin D deficiency.”
“It may assist physicians to identify early on chronic pain patients who would more likely benefit from vitamin D supplementation for their chronic pain problem.”
The Vitamin D Council recommends adults supplement with between 5,000-10,000 IU vitamin D3 daily to reach optimal vitamin D levels (40-80 ng/m) and experience the greatest impact for pain management. It’s important to remember that vitamin D alone often does not cure chronic pain, but may be an important factor in helping manage this issue.
My journey with vitamin D is why I have become the Executive Director of the Vitamin D Council with the mission of helping others as I have been helped.
If you have chronic pain or know someone with chronic pain, please share this article with them and your doctor.
If you choose to supplement with vitamin D to help manage chronic pain, please let us know the outcome at [email protected] so that we can share your story.
Sturges, M. & Cannell, JJ. What factors lead to vitamin D testing and supplementation among individuals with chronic pain? The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2017.