What are Muscle Relaxants?
If you’ve ever suffered from severe back pain, you’ve likely been prescribed muscle relaxants to help ease your symptoms. Muscle relaxants are medications that function as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They have both musculoskeletal relaxant and sedative properties.
Muscle relaxants can be used in combination with physical therapy, rest, and other treatment options to alleviate muscle discomfort. They are highly effective when it comes to treating muscle cramps, and/or muscle spasticity.
Muscle Cramps and Spasticity
Muscle cramps or spasms are often the result of muscle strain, and refer to unexpected, involuntary contractions of a specific muscle or muscle group. Common conditions that cause muscle cramps include neck and lower back pain, as well as fibromyalgia.
Muscle spasticity refers to a persistent muscle cramp that leads to stiffness or tightness in a muscle that can compromise normal movement. Muscle spasticity may occur due to a spinal cord or brain injury in the areas that control movement. Conditions that can cause muscle spasticity include multiple sclerosis (MS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and cerebral palsy.
The goals of muscle relaxants include minimizing muscle cramps and spasticity, alleviating pain, and improving the flexibility of the affected muscle or muscle groups.
Common Types of Muscle Relaxants
Muscle relaxants are not a true class of medications, but rather a collection of different medications, each with a general sedative property.
Muscle relaxants are classified into two broad groups:
- Antispasmodics: used to treat muscle spasms
- Antispastics: used to treat muscle spasticity
Below are a few examples of muscle relaxants that are commonly prescribed by healthcare professionals:
This medication eases muscle rigidity and muscle cramps, including those associated with spinal injuries. Baclofen may be instrumental in dealing with multiple sclerosis symptoms and intense nerve pain, although the mechanism of action is not completely known at this point. It is available in tablet form or by injection.
Cyclobenzaprine reduces pain and stiffness caused by muscle spasms. This medication isn’t recommended for individuals with heart rhythm complications, heart failure, or an overactive thyroid. It comes as an extended-release capsule and tablet.
This drug lessens acute muscle pain. This medication is not recommended for those with a history of sensitivity to any associated medication. It is available as a tablet or injection.
This muscle relaxant relaxes muscles and alleviates pain and stiffness triggered by severe muscle and bone issues that are associated with injuries. However, it can be addictive, especially if taken in combination with alcohol or other drugs with sedative properties and should therefore be used with caution.
Additionally, if you are hypersensitive to carbamate medicines, or you have ever suffered acute intermittent porphyria, carisoprodol should be avoided. This medication is available as a tablet, mixed with aspirin, or mixed with both aspirin and codeine.
Apart from treating muscle cramps caused by injury, inflammation, and muscle spasticity, diazepam alleviates symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and anxiety. It can also treat seizure disorders such as epilepsy.
This medication is for short-term use only due to its habit-forming potential and ability to adjust sleep cycles, resulting in sleep difficulties upon stopping the drug. It is available as a tablet, injection, rectal gel, and liquid.
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This muscle relaxant treats muscle spasm caused by cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, MS, or stroke. It is available as a tablet.
What Do Muscle Relaxants Do?
Muscle relaxants ease pain and discomfort by reducing stiffness and tenseness in the affected muscles. They achieve this in different ways: baclofen, methocarbamol, and diazepam work on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), while dantrolene acts directly on the muscles.
Dantrolene is believed to have fewer side effects than other muscle relaxants because it acts directly on the affected muscles. As a result, dantrolene is often the first muscle relaxant recommended by medical professionals for treatment of long-term muscle cramps or spasms.
Side Effects of Muscle Relaxants
All muscle relaxants have side effects; however, the severity of side effects varies among muscle relaxants. It is imperative to work with your doctor to identify the right medication for your situation. Below are some common side effects of muscle relaxants:
Since muscle relaxants relax the whole body, sleepiness is a common side effect. Driving and any critical decision-making should be avoided when taking muscle relaxants. It is also ideal to take muscle relaxants in the evening because of their sedative effect.
Unpleasant Withdrawal Symptoms
If you discontinue muscle relaxants abruptly after a lengthy period of taking them, you could end up experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including nausea, difficulty sleeping, and vomiting, as well as more serious symptoms such as seizures and hallucinations.
It’s important to work with your doctor to determine a suitable schedule for discontinuing muscle relaxant use.
Potential for Abuse
Due to their addictive nature, you should use muscle relaxants for a short duration and safely store them away from children. An overdose of this medication can be fatal.
Interactions with Other Drugs or Alcohol
Combining muscle relaxants with alcohol or other drugs such as opioids, psychotropics, sleeping aids, and certain herbal supplements can lead to an increased sedative effect, which has the potential to be fatal.
Other Side Effects
Serious side effects such as breathing difficulties, confusion, blurred vision, urinary difficulties, nausea, constipation, and fainting are rare, but you should be aware of them. If you notice any of these serious side effects, you should speak with your physician immediately.
While muscle relaxants can help control your discomfort, they should be used in conjunction with physical therapy, exercise, and ergonomic modifications at work in order to experience optimal control of your symptoms.