Vitamin D is an essential nutrient associated with numerous bodily functions, but perhaps vitamin D’s most widely known benefits are those it provides to the musculoskeletal system, namely its roles in bone mineralization and muscle function, both of which are important for reducing the risk for serious fall-related fractures in the elderly. However, there’s another musculoskeletal condition that’s been linked to vitamin D status that can impair an older adult’s ability to carry out their regular activities of daily living: lumbar spinal stenosis.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a common degenerative spinal disease resulting in narrowing of the spinal canal by degenerative spurs, thickening of ligaments, and loss of the intervertebral disk spaces. Symptoms associated with the condition include low back and buttock/leg pain (one or both legs), difficulty tolerating unsupported standing, and limited tolerance when walking (referred to as neurogenic claudication). A 2013 study found that roughly three-quarters of lumbar spinal stenosis patients are vitamin D deficient, and because low vitamin D levels have been linked to several aspects of spinal stenosis (tissue inflammation, disk degeneration, and muscle weakness), it’s suggested that improving vitamin D status in such patients could help manage the condition.
In an October 2023 study that included 51 elderly vitamin D-deficient patients with lumbar spinal stenosis, researchers divided participants into two groups. One group received an initial hyperdose of vitamin D delivered via injection and a daily 800 IU vitamin D supplement starting at twelve weeks that continued for three months. The control group received a placebo. Pre- and post-intervention blood tests showed that participants in the supplementation group experienced a greater increase in their vitamin D serum levels, which coincided with more meaningful improvements in both pain, disability, and quality of life. The findings support checking the vitamin D status of patients under care for lumbar spinal stenosis, which includes chiropractic care, and taking steps to improve vitamin D levels as part of the treatment process—especially since it’s such a low-cost and low-risk option.
To achieve healthy vitamin D levels, it’s recommended to spend at least 5-10 minutes outdoors on most days during the summertime with at least 35% of the body exposed to the sun. However, during the winter when just 10% of the body may be exposed to the sun, an individual may need to spend up to 45 minutes outdoors during midday on a daily basis. Of note, those living in higher latitudes or with a darker complexion may require more time in the sun to create sufficient vitamin D. If spending time in the sun is not possible, vitamin D levels can be improved by eating vitamin D-rich and fortified foods, as well as via supplementation. However, before making dietary changes or starting a supplement, consult with a health professional who is familiar with your unique medical history and can provide guidance and support.