Serum vitamin C and spinal pain: a nationwide study

Pain. 2016 Nov;157(11):2527-2535. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000671.


Back pain brings about one of the heaviest burden of disease. Despite much research, this condition remains poorly understood, and effective treatments are frustratingly elusive. Thus, researchers in the field need to consider new hypotheses. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an essential cofactor for collagen crosslinks, a key determinant of ligament, tendon, and bone quality. Recent studies have reported high frequency of hypovitaminosis C in the general population. We hypothesized that lack of vitamin C contributes to poor collagen properties and back pain. We conducted this study to examine the associations between serum concentration of vitamin C and the prevalence of spinal pain and related functional limitations in the adult general population. This study used nationwide cross-sectional data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004. Data were available for 4742 individuals aged ≥20 years. Suboptimal serum vitamin C concentrations were associated with the prevalence of neck pain (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 1.5; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.2-2.0), low back pain (aOR: 1.3; 95% CI: 1.0-1.6), and low back pain with pain below knee (aOR: 1.3; 95% CI: 1.0-1.9) in the past 3 months, self-reported diagnosis of arthritis/rheumatism (aOR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.2-1.7), and related functional limitations' score (adjusted difference of means [aB]: 0.03; 95% CI: 0.00-0.05). The prevalence of hypovitaminosis C in the general population is high. Our study shows associations between vitamin C and spinal pain that warrant further investigation to determine the possible importance of vitamin C in the treatment of back pain patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ascorbic Acid / blood*
  • Back Pain / blood*
  • Back Pain / epidemiology*
  • Back Pain / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Ascorbic Acid