Can Coffee Be Bad For Your Back?


7 Min Read

Coffee, a staple of our busy lives and that must-have pick me up that gives you the extra energy you need to get through the day. Unfortunately, the caffeine in your favorite drink could actually be giving you a backache or making a chronically bad back worse. Before you reach for that next cup of joe, clue yourself in on the flip side of your trusty aid.

Coffee drinking is more popular than ever. Some estimate that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the total population in North America (both children and adults) consume caffeine in some form on a regular basis.1 While caffeine features in everything from your morning coffee to energy drinks and sodas, for most adults it is the coffee that’s hard to do without. After all, it’s the shot in the arm that gets you through the work day or a busy morning at home. But what if the same soothing cup was also responsible for that stiff or aching back?

While no incriminating evidence directly links coffee consumption and chronic backaches, what emerges from studies is that caffeine can set things up for backaches. Whether it is stress, inflammation, sleep disorders, or anxiety, your coffee could be making these conditions worse and resulting in that aching back. In addition, coffee can aggravate things further if you have arthritis or back problems, intensifying the pain. According to Ayurveda, lower back pain is largely a problem of vata dosha and requires the person to cut out any inflammation-causing foods and stimulants that can aggravate the insomnia they are already prone to.2 So before you reach for that next cup of joe, clue yourself in on the flip side of your trusty aid.

Pain From Caffeine-Heightened Stress Levels

It comes as no surprise that caffeine is a stimulant and kicks your body into high gear. But not everyone realizes that in doing so, it drives the body’s adrenal glands to work harder. Coffee drunk in the morning can keep your stress or cortisol levels elevated all day long. In this “fight or flight” mode, your body is on the edge as it prepares for a possible attack. Whenever your muscles tense up, your sciatic nerve could get irritated, resulting in back pain.3

The steroid hormone cortisol when present in very high levels in your body can cause muscular weakness and mood swings, depression, and anxiety, besides also raising your blood pressure. In addition, the body can’t keep up this high level of cortisol production forever, ultimately causing cortisol levels to drop off. When cortisol levels are low, your body cannot respond adequately to psychological stress, triggering widespread pain. Research confirms this, with one study in particular showing that lower back pain could also be triggered by psychological factors. Any changes to the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis can interfere with the balance in the body and bring on symptoms that include back pain.4 That’s why it isn’t uncommon for someone who is stressed to complain of back pain as well.

Inflammation, Arthritis, And Back Pain

High coffee consumption could even cause inflammation. As a study found, moderate to high coffee intake was associated with an increased inflammation process in the body. For those with inflammatory back pain linked to autoimmune causes, this is significant and reining in coffee intake can ease symptoms.5 Not surprisingly, for those with chronic back pain too, staying off stimulants like caffeine, which by extension includes coffee, is commonly recommended.6

Researchers in Finland found a close link between coffee consumption and rheumatoid factor, a precursor to rheumatoid arthritis which can result in bad aches and pains. In fact, drinking 4 cups of coffee or more each day as much as doubled chances of testing positive for arthritis. This led them to conclude that drinking coffee could be a new risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis.7

Insomnia-Linked Aches And Pains

Getting a good night’s rest is important to ensure your body rests and recovers and is refreshed for the day ahead. Unfortunately, for those who consume too much caffeine in the form of multiple cups of coffee, sleep may not come easy. One study observed the effects of a 400 mg caffeine intake at bedtime, 3 hours before bedtime, and 6 hours before bedtime. (The average 16 oz cup of coffee from most cafés and coffee chains contains about 500 mg of caffeine.) Significant sleep disturbance was seen in all 3 cases. The researchers also noted that caffeine taken as long as 6 hours before you sleep could disrupt sleep.8

But how does this cause back pain? According to studies, not getting enough sleep and not sleeping well (sleep quality) can increase your risk of developing lower back pain. One study of adolescents found that not getting adequate sleep when they were 16 was a predictor of lower back pain, in boys as well as girls.9

Anxiety, Mood Alteration, And Your Cuppa

Caffeine is known to have an impact on your mood. While low quantities of caffeine, under 200 mg, can boost your mood and lift your spirits, having more than 200 mg could actually induce a negative mood. 10 Anxiety and nervousness linked to high coffee consumption in turn put you at risk of mood disorder-related backaches. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that anyone with anxiety problems and pain should cut back on coffee intake due to its tendency to increase acidity, interfere with sleep, and worsen anxiety.11

Back Pain From Kidney Stones

Drinking large quantities of coffee could also put you at risk of developing kidney stones, a painful condition that can bring on a sharp back pain. As one group of researchers found, caffeine consumption could cause a modest increase in your chances of developing calcium oxalate stones in your kidneys.12 A kidney stone that gets lodged somewhere along the ureter or kidney can result in an unrelenting lower back pain. For some, this may be interspersed with intense pain in the back and abdomen lasting a few minutes or even hours.13

Caffeine Withdrawal And Back Ache

Now, the other side of the coffee cup! If you are a regular coffee drinker and decide to suddenly drop your intake or stop completely, you might experience withdrawal symptoms from the stimulant. Besides getting a headache or feeling tired and sleepy due to the absence of the energy boost from coffee, you may also experience joint pain and overall muscular stiffness typically in the shoulders and neck, radiating towards other parts of the back as well. This kind of pain symptom stemming from stiffness tends to develop only once you cut back on your coffee consumption and begins around 12 to 24 hours after you stop drinking coffee. Symptoms tend to be worst at between 20 hours and 51 hours and will usually last no longer than 9 days.14

References   [ + ]

1.Caffeine Dependence, Johns Hopkins Medicine.
2.Intro to Ayurveda: The Three Doshas, The Yoga Journal.
3.Lane, James D., Carl F. Pieper, Barbara G. Phillips-Bute, John E. Bryant, and Cynthia M. Kuhn. “Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home.” Psychosomatic medicine 64, no. 4 (2002): 595-603.
4.McBeth, John, Yee H. Chiu, Alan J. Silman, David Ray, Richard Morriss, Chris Dickens, Anindya Gupta, and Gary J. Macfarlane. “Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress axis function and the relationship with chronic widespread pain and its antecedents.” Arthritis research & therapy 7, no. 5 (2005): 1.
5.Zampelas, Antonis, Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, Christos Pitsavos, Christina Chrysohoou, and Christodoulos Stefanadis. “Associations between coffee consumption and inflammatory markers in healthy persons: the ATTICA study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 80, no. 4 (2004): 862-867.
6.Low back pain, University of Maryland Medical Center.
7.Heliövaara, M., K. Aho, P. Knekt, O. Impivaara, A. Reunanen, and A. Aromaa. “Coffee consumption, rheumatoid factor, and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.” Annals of the rheumatic diseases 59, no. 8 (2000): 631-635.
8.Drake, Christopher, Timothy Roehrs, John Shambroom, and Thomas Roth. “Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.” J Clin Sleep Med 9, no. 11 (2013): 1195-1200.
9.Auvinen, Juha P., Tuija H. Tammelin, Simo P. Taimela, Paavo J. Zitting, Marjo-Riitta Järvelin, Anja M. Taanila, and Jaro I. Karppinen. “Is insufficient quantity and quality of sleep a risk factor for neck, shoulder and low back pain? A longitudinal study among adolescents.” European Spine Journal 19, no. 4 (2010): 641-649.
10.Caffeine Dependence, Johns Hopkins Medicine.
11.Chronic pain, ADAA.
12.Massey, Linda K., and Roger AL Sutton. “Acute caffeine effects on urine composition and calcium kidney stone risk in calcium stone formers.” The Journal of urology 172, no. 2 (2004): 555-558.
13.Symptoms of Kidney Stones, NHS UK.
14.Juliano, Laura M., and Roland R. Griffiths. “A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features.” Psychopharmacology 176, no. 1 (2004): 1-29.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.