Muscle Injuries in NFL Players Related to Low Vitamin D?

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A new study presented at this month’s American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine conference suggests that low vitamin D levels may increase the likelihood of muscle injuries in athletes, specifically NFL players.

Vitamin D deficiency is rampant. Few foods contain this vitamin (fortified milk and other fortified products, fish – but you must eat the bones) and many of us aren’t getting the sunlight required to make vitamin D (not the best route anyway if you want to protect your skin). And, football players – even though they practice outside, are covered up in so much gear that little to no skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun.

In this study, 80% of the NFL football team studied had vitamin D insufficiency (they weren’t deficient per se, but their levels certainly weren’t optimal). Of the 89 NFL athletes on this team:

  • 27 were vitamin D deficient (< 20 ng/ml)
  • 45 had low levels (but not true deficiency; 20 – 31.9 ng/ml)
  • 17 players had normal vitamin D levels (> 32 ng/ml)
Among the players who were deficient in vitamin D, 16 suffered from a muscle injury. Though this study doesn’t show cause and effect but instead a relationship between vitamin D and muscle injuries, there are some clues from other studies about the role vitamin D plays in athletes:
  • skeletal muscle has a receptor for vitamin D (which in the body acts like a steroid hormone)
  • vitamin D deficiency has been tied to pain, specifically low back pain
  • vitamin D deficiency is tied to fat infiltration in muscle tissue (fatty muscle = less effective functioning of muscle tissue)
Athletes have a greater risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency if they:
  • live in the Northern half of the country (above Atlanta, GA)
  • play indoor sports or are covered in clothing outside
  • have darker skin
  • those who take in little to no vitamin D in their diet (fortified milk, fish with bones)
Signs & Symptoms of deficiency:
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness or cramps
  • joint pain, lower back pain
  • constipation

If you are an athlete and want to perform at your best, it makes sense to get tested. Go to your primary care physician, campus health center or a local testing facility (Lapcorp, Quest, directlabs.com). Ask for a 25(OH)D test and, get the results (don’t settle for them telling you that your levels are normal, low etc.). Ideally, for good health, your vitamin D should be 50 – 70 nmol/L or > 20 ng/ml (depending on the measure used).

 

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