A new study indicates that many patients undergoing spine surgery have low levels of vitamin D, which may delay their recovery.
In a study of 313 patients undergoing spinal fusion surgery, orthopaedic surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that more than half had inadequate levels of vitamin D, including one-fourth who were more severely deficient.
The researchers report their findings today at the 26th Annual Meeting of the North American Spine Society. The study was chosen as one of the meeting's best papers.
"Our findings suggest it may be worthwhile to screen surgery patients for vitamin D," says Jacob M. Buchowski, MD, the study's principal investigator. "We think those with insufficient levels of vitamin D may benefit from taking 50,000 international units of the vitamin once a week for eight weeks before surgery as this may help the recovery after spinal fusion surgery."
Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, and patients with a deficiency can have difficulty producing new bone. They are at risk for a condition called osteomalacia. Unlike osteoporosis or osteopenia, which result from low bone mineral density, osteomalacia interferes with new bone formation.
All the patients in the study had spinal fusion surgery. In that procedure, surgeons remove discs between two or more vertebrae. The bones in the spine are then attached with hardware and treated with growth factors. As the spine heals, new bone begins to form, and the vertebrae fuse together.
Buchowski became aware of the vitamin D problem when a patient in her 40s experienced a slow recovery after spinal fusion surgery.
"I was examining her and trying to figure out why the vertebrae didn't fuse," he says. "She mentioned that she had recently been diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, and it was like a 'light bulb' went off."
As a result, Buchowski, an associate professor of orthpaedic surgery
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Washington University School of Medicine