Caffeine is a potent pain-killer. However, in addition to reducing pain on its own, caffeine in even low doses has been shown to magnify the pain killing power of aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprophen and even of narcotic analgesics. Decades ago, caffeine was commonly combined with aspirin, in over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as Anacin, and with narcotic pain killers, in prescription pharmaceuticals such as Percodan. Strangely enough, when acetaminophen largely replaced aspirin as the non-prescription pain-killer of choice, drug manufacturers stopped adding caffeine to these products! Whether this was because of some bizarre FDA rule or other unjustified cause, for many years caffeine was no longer available as a adjuvant to other pain killers.
There is good news about this issue today. Somehow, pharmaceutical companies have seen the light and rolled back the clock and are now using caffeine to boost the pain killing power of many of their analgesic products. For example, Excedrin Extra Strength now includes caffeine.
A metastudy reviewing 30 pain studies in which caffeine was used in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat postpartum, dental, and headache pain, found that the addition of 65 mg to 200 mg of caffeine (the amount in about 1/2 cup to about 1 1/3 cups of filter drip coffee) resulted in a clear increase in the power of the NSAIDs to relieve pain. It is clear that you would do well to create your own combination pain-killer by taking a Jet-Alert caffeine pill or drinking a cup of coffee when you are taking Advil (ibuprohen).
However, the power of caffeine alone to relieve pain is extremely impressive. In a major study, researchers split participants into four groups that were given either 400 mg of ibuprophen alone, 400 mg of ibuprophen combined with 200 mg caffeine, 200 mg of caffeine alone, or a placebo. Amazingly, caffeine alone delivered as much pain relief as the ibuprophen! Caffeine also worked faster, ending the headaches a half-hour quicker than the ibuprophen. However, the best results were achieved with the combination of caffeine and ibuprophen and the combination of caffeine and ibuprophen also worked much longer, providing an extra four hours of pain relief as compared with ibuprophen alone. So, if your doctor is aware of these facts, perhaps he might be telling you, “Take 200mg of caffeine—and call me in the morning!”
Caffeine has a special power to relieve migraines, a property that is put to good use in Excedrin Migraine. See our post, “Caffeine: A Powerful Treatment for Migraine Headaches.”
How Caffeine Stops Pain:
- Caffeine delivers pain relief by exerting relief at the site of an injury, acting directly on muscle tissue to relieve pain by repairing tissue damage and reducing inflammation.
- Caffeine also has profound CNS effects that block the central processing of pain signals in the brain and that increase the effectiveness of the body’s natural pain killing mechanisms.
To read more about this topic, see our page, “Controlling Pain with Caffeine.”