Vitamin D deficiency has already been linked to weakened bones, heightened risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer and even depression. It’s estimated that 42 percent of American adults are vitamin D deficient. Now researchers say low vitamin D levels could play a role in muscle injuries as well.
The study, in the December 2017 online issue of Arthroscopy, analyzed data from 214 NFL hopefuls. It found that 56 percent of athletes with below-average vitamin D levels had suffered lower extremity muscle pain or core muscle injury — compared with a whopping 73 percent of those with severely deficient levels, and only 40 percent with normal levels. Overall, vitamin D was lower than normal in 59 percent of the athletes surveyed.
According to lead author Brian Rebolledo, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic, relatively little research has been done on the harmful effects of vitamin D deficiency in elite athletes. The average age of participants was 22, whereas most previous studies had focused on the elderly. Dr. Rebolledo says, “We were interested in vitamin D in this population because it’s been shown to play an important role in muscle function and strength, which is critical to the high-performance athlete.”
The study found that low vitamin D levels may contribute to increased injury susceptibility or muscle dysfunction in high-level athletes.
Although Dr. Rebolledo concedes that more research is needed, the findings suggest boosting low vitamin D may lead to improved muscle function and fewer injuries, which could apply to a broad range of athletes.
“It’s a good idea for adults to have their vitamin D levels monitored and to ask their doctors about options if their levels are low,” he says. “Whether you’re training for a marathon or walking your dog around the block, it’s important to maintain good muscle and bone health, and vitamin D plays a key role.”