Vitamin D deficiency might be common in elite athletes, and it may lead to an increased chance of suffering a muscle injury in sports, according to a new study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

Michael Shindle, MD, and other researchers tested 90 players from a single NFL team. They obtained vitamin D levels as part of the team’s preseason testing. They then analyzed the data according to the demographics of the players with deficient levels.

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They found that 27 players had deficient levels and 45 had insufficient levels, while only 17 had vitamin D levels within normal limits. Deficient or insufficient levels were especially common in the black football players, who had levels that averaged 20.4 ng/mL. The mean vitamin D level in white players was 30.3 ng/mL.

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What was most striking from this study was how the low vitamin D levels correlated with injuries. Among the 16 players who suffered a muscle injury, the average preseason vitamin D level was 19.9 ng/mL. “Screening and treatment of vitamin D insufficiency in professional athletes may be a simple way to help prevent injuries,” said Shindle. “Further research needs to be completed but it is an exciting development in improving athletic performance.”

Vitamin D deficiency has become a hot topic in sports medicine in the last year. This study helps to show that it is a problem not limited to older or less healthy patients. It is a problem among elite athletes, such as NFL players, as well. More research needs to be done to see if other injuries can be associated with low vitamin D levels. But the study is a good start in showing that athletes, especially African American athletes, should consider testing and treatment for low vitamin D levels to try to decrease sports injuries.