Vitamin D and chronic pain?

Updated: Oct 7, 2021

I’ve been dealing with a lot of back and chronic pain for some time now and I’ve been doing all sorts of things to try stop the pain. Of course everyone is different, and sometimes our miracle methods work, to fail us the next time, or stop working all together. If you have chronic pain, you know what I mean.

We know that exercise and movement is one method that helps certain types of chronic pain, and the movement needs to be consistent to keep up the relief. This year I started my IUI and IVF journey. After two rounds of IUI were unsuccessful, we went on to IVF. With all my hormone replacements and acupuncture treatments, my pain was mild near to nonexistent. After my embryo transfer, I was rushed to hospital with a severe case of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). I was told to rest until I recovered. Resting. Oh how my pain came back, and with a vengeance. I ended up on light duties at work. On top of work-related stress, and nearing a burnout and mental breakdown, I became inactive.

Some time has passed, and I am moving again. For other reasons, I had to move. I love bush walks, so I started back on my local hill. I started feeling good again.

After a day or two of being sedentary, the pain creeps back. After two days of being unable to do my walk, I went to a local creek for a swim with my love. I bathed in the sun for a bit. I barely made 10,000 steps that day, but I felt great by the time I got home. Was it just simply being in nature? Was it my very short opportunity to ground with earth? What if it was something else? Then I wondered, was it the sun?

I’m barely in the sun anymore. Even with my job, I‘m covered head to toe in clothing. Since returning to my hill walks, I do them no earlier than 10am. My body operates better in the scorching sun, which is ironic because I dislike being hot and sweaty. But when I’m moving and in the sun, I power through (could be my middle eastern genetics? A discussion for another time perhaps).

Maybe my chronic pain started to develop when I stopped playing in the sun? I always feel great after a day of mowing and yard work. Am I on to something here?

So I Googled it, and believe it or not, there has been research conducted on vitamin D and chronic pain. Now I rather activate my vitamin D hormone from the ultimate source - the sun on my skin - but one research completed a trial on chronic pain sufferers with a placebo supplement and found the persons using the placebo felt no improvement, the vitamin D supplement users reported a decrease in pain [1]. Some studies have been looking into the correlation for about ten years [2].

It appears vitamin D deficiency became an increasing problem since the education of sun protection. Growing up in sunny Queensland in the 80's and 90's, "slip, slop, slap" was obsessively pushed on us. With the once "hole in the ozone layer" impacting Australians and the rise in skin cancer, we were told to "slip" into sun protection clothing, "slop" on some sunscreen and "slap" on a hat. In 2007, the Australian Cancer Council added "seek" and "slide" ("seek" shade and "slide" on sunglasses). In my lifetime, sunscreen went from SPF15+ to 50+. SPF started in the 60's as low as 2+ [3].

Wikipedia sources a study [4] stating "The typical use of sunscreen does not usually result in vitamin D deficiency; however, extensive usage may." My mum was a pusher of sunscreen. I never argued. I used to wear sunscreen as my everyday (and night) moisturiser! I thought it was a great way to not forget to wear it and save money on buying too many products! I know, gross. My poor body. All that poison. I nagged my close white friends to wear sunscreen, and reminded them they had a higher chance of getting burned (than I do, and I used to triple coat the stuff). When Whitney came in to my life, to get her to wear sunscreen, I would joke "I ain't dating no old-looking wrinkly young woman". In my defence, she is eleven years my junior, with beautiful skin she was aware of, and used to obsess over getting wrinkles. My arguments worked.

My concern towards vitamin D deficiency began when my mum told me a few years ago she was vitamin D deficient and told me to get checked. I was still in the sun a lot then, so I wasn't too concerned. I got tested and I definitely could have done with more vitamin D. Mum expressed she was always in the sun gardening and unfortunately now needs the help from regular vitamin D supplements. We joked about how our compulsiveness totally backfired on us.

What is the big deal with vitamin D deficiency? This information is readily available - it can lead to brittle bones, pain in the muscles, weak or lazy muscles, bone and back pain that may lead to osteoporosis. There we go. That is right at the top of the Google results, without even opening a link. Other symptoms include general fatigue, depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some health pages say symptoms are in severe cases only, others say symptoms appear over time.

A memory stuck with me since childhood, I learned in one of my classes. It was the cause of small stature in mining-children in the UK. It was suggested the cause was lack of sunlight.

It is openly discussed persons living in sunlight deprived locations are known to have poor teeth health. The twentieth century introduced processed and high-sugary foods, and in turn a rise in tooth decay. We are commonly told calcium supports strong bone health, and vitamin D helps absorb calcium.

Experts and articles everywhere are recommending an x amount of sunlight a day to help give us the vitamin D we need. I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard this. Vitamin D is important to our health.

How about the reliance of the sun for the growth and sustainability of plant life?

Warning: Do not underestimate the damage the sun can do to our skin. Yes, humans evolved with the sun for millions of years, SPF sunscreen has been around for six decades. But. Human skin type evolved with the area on earth we lived. Some cultures used other methods of sun protection for ions. With the industrial revolution and motorised transport, humans are migrating around the globe a lot quicker and more commonly than they used to. Climate is warming. The sun's UV rays are increasing. Don't discount advice from our scientists to protect our skin from the sun.

The push on sun protection over recent decades may have scared us from the sun. It scared me to the point of forgetting the benefits of getting some sun. If you are worried about the poisons in commercial sunscreen, try making your own or looking for a natural alternative. Also remember, our skin is one organ. Any skin exposure will provide us with the benefits.

Chronic pain has many causes: injury, post-surgery, degeneration, referred pain, diet, health, inflammation, stress, tension, weight. Chronic pain can be in your bones, nerves, muscles; head, shoulder, neck, back, knees. The pain may be constant, reoccurring, last a couple of days at a time, months or years, disappear and return five years later. Different methods of pain relief work for different people, at different times. If you have tried everything, but haven't considered adding more sun to your routine, maybe give it a go. I know I will.

Look, if the sun is powerful enough to impact our bone health and structure, among other things, I believe a little sun on my skin can definitely contribute to healing some chronic pain.

[1] Helde-Frankling M, Bjorkhem-Bergman L (October 2017). "Vitamin D in Pain Management". []

[2] Shaw D, Martin LJ (May 2010). "Researchers are exploring a possible link between low levels of vitamin D and chronic pain.". WebMD. []

[3] Renda E (May 2016). "Summer Skin: Then and Now". University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institution: Health University of Utah. []

[4] Norval M, Wulf HC (October 2009). "Does chronic sunscreen use reduce vitamin D production to insufficient levels?". The British Journal of Dermatology. 161 (4): 732–6. []

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