Mocha for the Aches? Coffee as a Pain-Reliever

Caffeine isn’t intuitively a pain-reliever.  Some people see it as something that will get you high-strung.  It drives you through stressful situations, but other than that could cause problems.  Not so, say the good scientists, at least the ones at National Institute of Occupational Health and Oslo University Hospital in Norway.  In a brief study recently published by BMC Research Notes, two groups were compared in terms of their development of pain throughout a given day.  One group was allowed and had coffee about 78 minutes earlier, the other didn’t:

Forty eight subjects all working fulltime, 22 with chronic shoulder and neck pain and 26 healthy pain-free subjects, were recruited to perform a computer-based office-work task for 90 min. Nineteen (40%) of the subjects had consumed coffee (1/2 -1 cup) on average 1 h 18 min before start. Pain intensity in the shoulders and neck and forearms and wrists was rated on a visual analogue scale every 15 min throughout the work task.

During the work task the coffee consumers exhibited significantly lower pain increase than those who abstained from coffee.

The interesting part of this study is that it wasn’t intended to measure coffee or caffeine’s effect on pain.  It was more focused on pain development with workers in offices, particularly in front of a computer (carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, etc.).  Coffee was allowed because it was routine for many of those that were part of the survey.  But because coffee wasn’t the focus of the study, it was merely noted and not measured:

Since a controlled randomized design of the coffee consumption was not used a lot of uncertainties about the association between coffee intake and differences in pain-perception during the office work task exist. The exact dose of coffee is unknown; the quantity of coffee consumed was self-reported even though one cup was the maximal allowed limit; the size of a cup may vary and also the caffeine dose, and blood samples were not taken to measure the caffeine in the system.

There is a lot left to study if these researchers decide to pursue the results in further surveys and tests.  What they knew going in was clear: coffee has an understood effect on habitual drinkers.

The reason for allowing the coffee intake before starting the experiment was to avoid unpleasant effects of caffeine deprivation, e.g. decreased vigor and alertness, sleepiness, and fatigue, as have been reported when missing the regular morning coffee in habitual coffee drinkers. It is reasonable to believe that those who ingested coffee before start were habitual coffee drinkers. However, it is not known if those who not ingested coffee also were habitual coffee users or not.

But there might be other differences worth investigating.  Do habitual coffee drinkers have different personalities or habits in general from non-drinkers?  Do they experience less pain, anyway?  Previous studies have shown similar effects, though.  In one, mocha was shown to reduce pain in workouts.

Ultra-endurance athletes have been conscious of the positive effects of caffeine on their routines for quite a while.

One researcher even suggested it could be essential to starting a new, long-term exercise program.  It will interesting to see how future studies unfold.


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