Coffee and Pain Relief

What motivates you to get out of bed each morning? For more than 60 percent of Americans, it’s coffee. With a national daily average consumption of three cups of coffee, more than 450 million cups are consumed per day. This places the U.S. at number 26 worldwide, while Finland ranks at number one. I’m not surprised, since my Finnish-American in-laws always kept a pot of coffee going. For each visit, the aroma greeted us upon arrival and pleasantly awoke us in the mornings.

The origin of coffee is thought to have been in Ethiopia, dating back to the 10th century, although legends tell of possibly an earlier time. Coffee reached the rest of the world either by cultivation or trade between the 15th and 19th centuries.

More than the awakening effect of coffee’s aroma, its benefits include pain relief from tension-type and migraine headaches, muscle stress, and postoperative pain. In the belief that caffeine enhances the efficacy of analgesics, caffeine has been added to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin for years. In a study reported by Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics that included 301 subjects diagnosed with tension-type headaches, administering ibuprofen and caffeine together resulted in significantly shorter times to considerable improvement in headache relief than ibuprofen alone. And more patients reported complete headache relief with this combination.

From the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, an analysis of 20 pain studies on the effect of adding caffeine to analgesics treating dental, headache, and postpartum pain, the authors reported that it provided a good level of pain relief with the addition of 100 milligrams (mg) or more of caffeine to a standard dose of commonly used analgesics. So, how many cups of Joe are needed to get 100 mg of caffeine? On average, an 8-ounce cup provides 95 mg, so one cup will do. As reported in another of their reviews, 200 mg ibuprofen plus 100 mg caffeine was one of the best values for effective pain relief for acute postoperative pain and migraine headache, and relief could most likely be achieved with a single 200-mg ibuprofen tablet with a cup of coffee, allowing for pain relief at lower doses of ibuprofen.

The University of Illinois ran an experiment on college-age men who were habitual coffee drinkers to evaluate the effects of caffeine during high-intensity cycling. The participants ingested caffeine (5 mg per kilogram of body weight) one hour prior to the workout, which resulted in significant reduction in quadriceps-muscle pain-intensity regardless of the level of the participants’ caffeine habit. It’s nice to have a reason to enjoy a cup or two of coffee before getting ready for a workout rather than waiting until afterward — just make sure your workout is early in the day.

The recipes here offer a special start to the day, a sustaining main dish, and a festive finish, all incorporating coffee. Let’s get grinding!

Want to try more pain-fighting foods? Check out our selection of delicious and healthful recipes!

Susan Ojanen is an integrative nutrition coach in Bristol, Tennessee, and owner of She is passionate about helping clients worldwide achieve their health goals by creating sensible and maintainable lifestyle changes.

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