Vitamin D and joint pain: What does the research say?

A vitamin D deficiency can affect both physical and mental health, but many people have low levels of vitamin D without realizing. The physical symptoms of a deficiency may include muscle pain in the joints, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain, which often occurs in the knees, legs, and hips.

In this article, we look at the evidence for a link between vitamin D and joint pain. We discuss how people can obtain vitamin D and what their daily intake should be.

Why do we need vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that helps regulate the amount of calcium in the body. This vitamin is crucial for bone health.

A deficiency of vitamin D causes bones to soften and become weak. This is called osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children. Vitamin D can also help prevent osteoporosis, which is another condition that weakens bones.

In addition, the vitamin may affect the immune system and could help to manage autoimmune conditions such as RA, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency vary from person to person. Typical symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • bone pain
  • respiratory issues
  • neurological concerns including numbness
  • low mood, specifically seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that adults have 15 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day.

The foods below are some of the few that are rich in vitamin D, so the diet should include some of these each day if possible:

  • oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • fortified milk
  • beef liver
  • egg yolks
  • mushrooms
  • fortified breakfast cereals


Some people, such as vegetarians or older adults, may struggle to get enough vitamin D, especially in the winter.

The NIH suggest that supplements may be useful for:

  • older adults, as the skin loses its ability to synthesize vitamin D as effectively
  • people with darker skin, as it may be more difficult for the skin to use sunlight for vitamin D production
  • breast-fed infants, as their vitamin D status relies on another person’s

It is possible to obtain vitamin D supplements from drugstores or online.

Too much vitamin D can cause toxicity, so it is best to talk with a doctor or healthcare professional before taking any new supplements and to adhere to the dosage they recommend.

Other vitamins for joint pain

Joint pain is often a sign of inflammation. While there is still a lack of understanding around the role of food in mediating joint pain, people should not overlook the impact of diet and specific nutrients.

Other nutrients that might help relieve joint pain include:

  • probiotics, according to a 2017 study, where an autoimmune disease is the cause of the pain
  • omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, according to a 2017 study
  • calcium
  • vitamin K

In a recent review from 2018, researchers suggested that following a Mediterranean diet may help manage pain and improve physical health.

Additionally, a diet rich in antioxidants from brightly colored fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can boost overall health and reduce the risk of disease.


Vitamin D deficiency is common, but exposure to natural sunlight and eating foods rich in vitamin D can help prevent the condition.

Vitamin D deficiency seems to be prevalent in patients with RA, and lower vitamin D levels may also contribute to the severity of joint pain. However, there needs to be more research in this area.

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