Can Caffeine Cause Back Pain?
'Caffeine Is In The Dock. The Trial Begins....'
The Short Answer –
Caffeine has often been convicted as ‘guilty by association’ with back pain. Caffeine is, after all, often found in the perfect environments for back pain. But can caffeine cause back pain?
The theory might say ‘yes’, but the truth is caffeine in itself is innocent.
We look at both sides and try to work out just how likely caffeine is to have caused your back pain, the chances of it making existing pain worse, what you can do about it and the danger that giving up caffeine actually makes you back pain worse.
Can Caffeine Cause Back Pain – The Body’s Natural Response.
The role of caffeine in non-specific back pain (ie not related to a particular disease or injury) is a very complex one.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant, exerting it’s main impact on jolting your central nervous system.
It’s effect on you is fairly short-lasting though – peaking within one hour after consumption, while your body will have eliminated half of it altogether within four to six hours.
The actual effect that taking caffeine will have on you as an individual depends on a huge range of factors including how you consume it, what it is consumed with and your bodies natural sensitivity to it.
One of things that complicates studies into the impact of caffeine is that each persons’ response to the same input of caffeine can be completely different.
Can Diet Really Affect Back Pain?
Diet has been proven time and time again to have a significant impact on how we function as human beings. Sayings such as ‘you are what you eat’ were not thought up out of the blue.
They are based around what we know as correct about the human body.
Indeed, for generations our ancestors used foods and plants in particular to craft medicines for curing various ills.
Move on to 2020 and we find a gradually increasing disengagement from the newer chemical solutions in favour of a return to dietary and lifestyle changes.
If you want to measure the potential impact of diet on our lives, you need only look at the number of people for whom trying an inflammatory diet has achieved some form of pain relief.
The Theory Behind Coffee and Back Pain.
The theory behind a link between coffee and back pain, relies on the typical social results associated with caffeine.
Caffeine is associated with fairly dramatic mood swings caused by the short-term highs and addictive nature of caffeine.
People seeking these ‘highs’ often have an underlying reason for doing so – stress or being overworked.
We know that stress leads to tighter muscles and a greater sensitivity to pain. Tighter muscles = muscular pain around your back = back pain.
Similarly being overworked can lead to a whole range of stress fractures and other injuries to your back.
However, while both of these scenarios can cause back pain, it is still not directly a result of caffeine.
Furthermore, the source of caffeine is also important. We know that, besides tea/ coffee and supplements, a lot of caffeine is consumed through soda/ high energy drinks.
Both soda and high energy drinks are associated with extremely high sugar levels and often cause people to be overweight.
As we’ve already investigated, being overweight can also directly cause back pain, regardless of the actual amount of caffeine consumed.
The Case That Caffeine Is ‘Guilty’
This very much hinges on two concepts –
- That stopping caffeine consumption causes withdrawal effects including a hypersensitivity to pain, that makes you feel existing back pain more acutely.
- That consuming large amounts of caffeine has a negative effect on your health which can cause back pain.
We all know that caffeine is highly addictive and that giving up any addictive substance can lead to withdrawal effects. I have personally experienced this giving up pepsi as I have.
As well as getting ‘the shakes’, it is not unusual to experience a short-term hypersensitivity to pain.
Now this wont CREATE back pain, but it might make you feel it more acutely in the short-term, while your body adjusts.
Consuming Large Amounts
Most of what I’ve discussed so far is concerning ‘normal’ levels of caffeine. If you consume very high levels of anything, then it is likely to have an adverse effect on your health, which in turn can lead to increased overall pain.
One particular study in 2018 reported that drinking 6 cups of coffee or more increased the chance of non-specific lower back pain ‘by over 16 times’ (Citko et al, Epidemiological Research in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors)
However, it is very difficult to draw any real conclusions from this. For one reason, the test involved coffee, not isolated caffeine. If they had included caffeine-free coffee, then they might have had better evidence.
From a study we looked at on coffee’s overall effect on gout, we saw that it was actually the other ingredients in coffee that caused a difference, not the caffeine.
We could tell this straight away, because caffeine containing tea had a very different result, isolating the caffeine as not the determining factor.
The Evidence That Caffeine Is Innocent.
A much more detailed study conducted by Currie et al in the Clinical Pain Journal looked specifically at the relationship between caffeine and low back pain.
They concluded that there were
“no significant differences among the low, medium, and high caffeine consumer groups on any self-report measure of pain severity..”
The report also acknowledged that while caffeine in isolation was innocent,
“high caffeine use may be embedded in a context of other unhealthy life-style behaviors.”
Caffeine For Pain Control
So far we’ve seen that caffeine is often associated with unhealthy situations and often inadvertently blamed for causing back pain, but we haven’t touched on WHY people reach for caffeine when they are tired, stressed or under pressure.
IT is because they want a BOOST! And caffeine provides that. Not only does it provide increased mental alertness, but it has also been shown to provide temporary pain relief.
Many painkillers actually contain a small portion of caffeine as part of their tablet.
Indeed, a review for ‘Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine’ found that
“Caffeine has a potential role for pain modulation”
In other words, not only is caffeine highly unlikely to be in any way responsible for your back pain, but it might actually be helping reduce the pain you feel.
The Final Word.
The trial of caffeine has shown it to be pained in a bad light.
Can caffeine cause back pain?
No, not on it’s own.
It might be associated with back pain, but in actual fact the only time caffeine might increase your back pain in isolation is the withdrawal symptoms likely if you try to stop consuming caffeine altogether.
Not only this, but caffeine can actually provide a high that has been known to reduce pain, albeit only in the short term.
All of this combined simply proves caffeine does not cause back pain.
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1. Anna Citko , Stanisław Górski , Ludmiła Marcinowicz, and Anna Górska (2018). Sedentary Lifestyle and Nonspecific Low Back Pain in Medical Personnel in North-East Poland. Epidemiological Research in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviors
2. Currie SR, Wilson KG, Gauthier ST. (Sept 1995). Caffeine and chronic low back pain. Clinical Journal of Pain.
3. Alireza Baratloo, Alaleh Rouhipour, Mohammad Mehdi Forouzanfar, Saeed Safari, Marzieh Amiri, and Ahmed Negida. (2016). The Role of Caffeine in Pain Management: A Brief Literature Review. Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.
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