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News release 15 April 2014


New research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is associated with the development of chronic widespread pain

A new study, which will be presented at Rheumatology 2014 this month, has found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with the development of chronic widespread pain. The research has unveiled the link using data from over 2,300 men in the European Male Ageing Study. It suggests that this may be a result of other adverse health and lifestyle factors such as depression, obesity and physical inactivity.

The research, which was conducted at the University of Manchester, found that those with vitamin D deficiency at the start of the study were more than twice as likely to develop chronic widespread pain as those with the highest levels.
After an average follow up of 4.3 years, one in 15 men who had no symptoms at the start of the study had developed chronic widespread pain. Those who developed the condition were more likely to be depressed, obese, physically inactive and have additional health conditions.
After taking adverse health and lifestyle factors into account the apparent link with vitamin D deficiency disappeared, suggesting that these factors have a significant effect on the development of chronic widespread pain and that there may be a complex interplay between the factors that cause the condition.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in the UK population, with more than half of all adults expected to have an insufficient level of the vitamin. It can cause weakness as well as musculoskeletal pain. Chronic widespread pain, which affects around one in five people, can be caused by rheumatic and neurological disorders.
Lead researcher Paul McCabe said: “Musculoskeletal pain is a recognised symptom of severe vitamin D deficiency states such as osteomalacia. What is less clear is whether vitamin D deficiency has a role in explaining more common chronic pain symptoms including chronic widespread pain. Our research highlights the complex relationship between vitamin D and factors such as obesity and depression in the development of chronic widespread pain. Further research is required to determine whether treatment of vitamin D deficiency may prevent the development of chronic pain.”
President of the British Society for Rheumatology Chris Deighton said: “This study reveals a number of complex inter-related issues which have extremely important implications for our colleagues in Public Health in keeping the population as free from widespread musculoskeletal pain as possible.”
The research “Low vitamin D and the risk of developing chronic widespread pain: results from the European Male Ageing Study” from Paul McCabe et al will be presented as a poster abstract (number 33) at Rheumatology 2014. For more information, see
The research was funded by the Commission of the European Communities Fifth Framework Program: Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources and the National Institute of Health Research.


For further information, please contact:

Emily Head, Marketing Officer, British Society for Rheumatology: / 020 7842 0900

Zena Wigram, Head of Marketing and Communications, British Society for Rheumatology: / 020 7842 0900



  1. Chronic widespread pain is a major public health problem involving pain that persists for over three months. It is common and affects approximately one in five people. Chronic widespread pain can affect any part of the body and its cause is unknown.
  2. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to conditions including osteoporosis in adults. Research has shown that more than 50% of UK adults have an insufficient level of vitamin D.
  3. Rheumatology 2014 is a world-class conference for all health professionals with an interest in musculoskeletal conditions. Held at the Liverpool ACC from 29 April – 1 May, the conference will highlight international aspects of rheumatology from exotic tropical diseases to worldwide challenges in healthcare delivery. Boasting innovative sessions in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, pain, vasculitis and more, the broad programme provides 18 RCP CPD points and ensures that there is something for attendees of all disciplines. Media tickets are available to interested journalists: please contact
  4. The British Society for Rheumatology (BSR) exists to promote excellence in the treatment of people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions and to support those delivering it. It is a professional association representing the whole multi-disciplinary team: consultant rheumatologists, trainees, specialised nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and GPs with special interest in rheumatology. BSR aims to improve standards of care in rheumatology and secure a high priority for rheumatology services.

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