Vitamin C deficiency is associated with neck and back pain, and possibly headaches

Vitamin C deficiency appears to be more common in people with back pain, according to a study just published in the journal Pain by Canadian researchers. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is important for collagen formation and collagen is one of the main ingredients of ligaments, tendons, and bones. Recent studies have reported that vitamin C deficiency is common in the general population. The authors “hypothesized that lack of vitamin C contributes to poor collagen properties and back pain”. They used nationwide data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003–2004. Information was available for 4,742 individuals older than 20. Low serum vitamin C levels were associated with one and a half times higher prevalence of neck pain and 1.3 times higher prevalence of low back pain, as well as low back pain with pain radiating to below the knee in the preceding three months. Deficiency was also associated with the self-described diagnosis of arthritis or rheumatism and related functional limitations. The authors concluded that the association between vitamin C deficiency and spinal pain warrants further investigation to determine the possible importance of vitamin C in the treatment of back pain patients.

Neck pain is very common in patients with migraine and tension-type headaches, so it is possible that vitamin C could also play a role in the treatment of headaches. My search revealed no studies looking at vitamin C levels in migraine sufferers. It may be worth checking vitamin C levels in those headache patients who do not respond to usual treatments and recommending supplementation to those who are deficient. However, even if I see good responses to vitamin C in my patients, these observations are not going provide true scientific evidence, even if hundreds of my patients report feeling better. This is because besides giving vitamin C, I would continue to recommend regular exercise, healthy diet, meditation, and other vitamins and minerals, all of which could be contributing to improvement. We need a large study to measure vitamin C levels in headache patients, and the deficient patients should be enrolled in a double-blind study to find out if vitamin C can improve different types of headaches.

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