Caffeine is one of the most popular psychoactive drugs in the word. The stimulant occurs naturally in coffee and tea and is added to energy drinks in generous amounts. Caffeine is also found in some over-the-counter pain medications. Caffeine is a mild analgesic, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and can improve drug absorption. While consuming caffeine has some unwanted side effects, it also has some beneficial properties, especially for pain relief.
Caffeine and Pain
Caffeine can help reduce muscle pain. In 2009, researchers from the department of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois found that consuming caffeine prior to a workout could lower pain levels and can help exercisers train harder and longer. This affect occurs because caffeine affects neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord heavily involved with pain processing. This study is similar to research originally published in 2006 by the Journal of Pain, indicating that caffeine could produce a large reduction in pain of delayed-onset muscle injury, which is pain that occurs several hours after a traumatic event.
In these studies, volunteers were provided with 5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight, which amounts to about two or three cups of coffee. According to MedlinePlus, 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to the amount used in the study, is considered a moderate amount of the stimulant and won’t put you at risk for dependence. The researchers also found that caffeine has the same analgesic effect in people who use caffeine regularly. So even if you do have three to four cups of coffee per day, using the psychoactive substance for muscle and body pain relief at this dose is still beneficial.
Reports of caffeine withdrawal syndrome date back nearly two centuries, according to Laura M. Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University. In 2005, Johns Hopkins Medicine announced the inclusion of the disorder into the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the official mental disorder compendium in the United States. In addition to mood disturbances, withdrawing from caffeine can cause body aches, muscle pain and stiffness 12 to 24 hours after taking your last cup of coffee, energy drink or caffeine pill.
While much of the research on caffeine has be centered on relieving tension headaches and general, exercise-induced muscle pain, the consensus on the stimulant is that it helps the body rapidly absorb pain-killing medications, according to My Family Doctor magazine, which provides pain relief sooner. Caffeine added to pain relievers make the drugs 40 percent more effective, says the Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, because of this increased effect, less pain-numbing drug is necessary, which reduces the risk for liver toxicity, especially in acetaminophen. If your doctor suggests getting plenty of rest and immobilizing your neck, forego caffeinated beverages and medications since you’re at risk for feeling energetic, jittery and anxious.
- “The Journal of Pain”; Caffeine Attenuates Delayed-Onset Muscle Pain and Force Loss Following Eccentric Exercise; V. Maridakis; March 2007
- ScienceDaily: Caffeine Reduces Pain During Exercise; April 2009
- MedlinePlus: Caffeine in the Diet
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder; September 2004