Is Coffee Good for Chronic Pain?


Today is National Coffee Day, and cafes around the country, including Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Illy are giving away free cups of joe to celebrate. But should you indulge in a caffeinated treat? Believe it or not, some research suggest that coffee is good for chronic pain.

Research findings, released earlier this year from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Boston Children’s Hospital, suggests that fatigue increases pain sensitivity. Because of this, they recommend either getting enough sleep, or taking medications to increase wakefulness, such as caffeine.

Coffee May Be Better than Painkillers

Harvard Medical School researchers conducted the studies mentioned above, and they tested the theory on mice. They found that five days of moderate sleep deprivation “can significantly exacerbate pain sensitivity over time in otherwise healthy mice.”

They then tried treating the pain sensitivity with common painkillers, such as ibuprofen. However, they found that drugs that increase wakefulness, such as caffeine and modafinil, blocked the pain more successfully than the painkillers.

Patients May have to Increase Medications when Tired

The research also found that painkiller medications appeared to be less effective in fatigued mice, suggesting that patients using drugs for pain relief may have to increase their dosage to get relief, which would, in turn, also increase the medication’s side effects.

Having to take more drugs to combat pain can result in the patient feeling more fatigued, and feeling fatigued can cause the patient to have to take more drugs. This creates a never-ending chronic pain cycle. Drugs, such as caffeine, however, can disrupt this cycle.

Dr. Clifford Woolf, director of the Kirby Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, stated, “Such drugs could help disrupt the chronic pain cycle, in which pain disrupts sleep, which then promotes pain, which further disrupts sleep.”

Thoughts on Coffee for Pain from Harvard Medical School

The Harvard Researchers stated, in conclusion, that “Patients with chronic pain might benefit from better sleep habits or taking sleep-promoting medications at night, coupled with daytime alertness-promoting agents to break the pain cycle.”

Before using coffee at part of your chronic pain treatment, please be sure to consult with your primary care physician. With your physician’s approval, enjoy National Coffee Day, and be sure to grab a free cup of coffee at any participating location.

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