Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is synthesized in your skin during sun exposure. Vitamin D helps in the absorption and utilization of calcium to keep bones and connective tissues strong. Vitamin D's effect on bone and joint health may be the very reason a lack of vitamin D can contribute to musculoskeletal pain. The shoulder is a common site for chronic pain, and vitamin D may benefit those suffering from painful shoulders.
Chronic Shoulder Pain
The shoulder is made up of a complex combination of nerves, muscles, tendons and joint tissues. All of these tissues work together to help you throw a ball, scratch your back or lift a fork. Most shoulder pain is caused by tendon inflammation and arthritis in the shoulder joints, resulting in chronic shoulder pain and inflammation. In 2009, Mayo Clinic research revealed that patients with chronic pain had low levels of vitamin D and needed nearly twice the amount of narcotic pain-relievers as those with normal levels. More research is needed, but some physicians are already testing patients with musculoskeletal pain for low vitamin D levels.
Osteoporosis and Arthritis
Three bones form the shoulder, including the upper arm bone, the shoulder blade and the collar bone. Osteoporosis is a disease that causes thinning of the bone tissue and can affect the shoulder bones, resulting in bone pain and an increased risk for fractures. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, thereby preventing osteoporosis. Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are caused by an overactive immune system that attacks the body's connective tissues, resulting in shoulder pain and inflammation. Besides helping with chronic pain, vitamin D is a potent immune system modulator that helps normalize certain cells and enzymes that fuel joint inflammation in autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin D offers many health benefits, but you must know how much vitamin D you need. In 2010, the Food and Nutrition Board, or FNB, established a recommended daily allowance of vitamin D to maintain bone and joint health without reaching vitamin toxicity. Vitamin D is best acquired through skin contact with direct sunlight for 5 to 30 minutes twice a week, but some people do not get enough sunlight to maintain adequate levels and few foods contain enough of the vitamin to be therapeutic. Based on minimal sun exposure, the FNB suggests 600 IU daily for adults, but some doctors feel higher levels are needed. Ask your doctor for a vitamin D blood test to see what amount of vitamin D is right for you.
Excessive vitamin D can cause weight loss, heart arrhythmia and increased urination. The biggest risk is a dangerous buildup of calcium in the bloodstream, resulting in kidney stones, vascular damage and heart muscle damage. In addition, vitamin D may not help certain kinds of shoulder pain, including pain from nerve damage, disk herniation or shoulder joint instability, so see your doctor for a definite diagnosis before taking vitamin D. As always, it is best to ask your doctor about treatment options for pain and vitamin D supplementation.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; Shoulder Pain; December 2010
- Mayo Clinic; Mayo Clinic Researchers Link Vitamin D and Chronic Pain Relief; Bryan Anderson; March 2009
- Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute; Vitamin D; Victoria J. Drake; January 2008
- Office of Dietary Supplements; Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet; Vitamin D; February 2011
- Centers for Disease and Prevention; The Importance of Monitoring Vitamin D in the U.S.; August 2010