Vitamin-D has been a very big deal this past few years. There’s been back and forth on whether low vitamin-D is associated with arthritis. However, can low levels also cause neck and back problems?
On the heels of this controversy, there was an interesting study this past month on an association between low vitamin D levels and neck disc herniation in patients undergoing surgery. The hospital group looked at 91 consecutive, eligible adult spine surgery patients who had undergone cervical MRI and who had a low serum Vitamin D measurement. The study was retrospective, meaning it looked back at existing records. The MRI’s of these patients were read and compared with the 384 disks of patients with normal vitamin D levels, The 162 disks of vitamin D-deficient patients were more frequently herniated (40% versus 27%, p = 0.004). On further analysis, the deficiency was associated with increased number of herniations per patient. When discs were analyzed individually, the deficiency correlated with greater likelihood of herniation per disc.
So is this study unique? Not really. A recent Turkish study showed that patients with certain genes that coded for a bad vitamin D receptor had more disc degeneration. Another recent study found similar things, basically a combination of having certain vitamin-D linked genes and a heavy labor occupation was linked to more disc disease. A 2006 Chinese study showed similar things-a gene/vitamin-D connection with spinal disc problems. A 2003 Finnish study also discussed aberrations in the gene for vitamin-D and disc disease. In fact, the first paper on the topic that I could find goes all the way back to 1998.
The upshot? When I first read the above paper on cervical low vitamin D disc herniations – I was pretty skeptical. However, digging deeper into the topic this morning, there does appear to be well known connection between having certain genes, vitamin-D, and bad discs. So should you get tested? Based on what I found this morning, you may want to get a simple vitamin-D serum level added to your next blood draw. Will supplementing it if it’s low help your back or neck pain? I didn’t find any research on that issue at all. Based on some of these receptor defects described though, taking a vitamin-D supplement may help the issue.