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Do Muscle Relaxers Help With Pain: When To Use These Drugs?

Last Updated: June 20, 2022

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Muscle relaxers are medications that are known to be effective for neck pain and back pain. But muscle relaxant drugs are also effective for anxiety, sleep, sciatica, menstrual cramps, headaches, and fibromyalgia. Generally, relaxers’ mechanism of action is decreasing skeletal muscle tone. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2 million American adults use relaxers. Two third of these statistics use these drugs with other medications such as prescription analgesics. Aside from being considered prescription medications, otc muscle relaxants are also available. 

Because of this, it is essential to learn how these drugs work, and in this article, information about what are muscle relaxers used for, precautions while using these drugs, and how to properly use these medications will be provided.

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Do Muscle Relaxers Help with Pain: What Are Muscle Relaxers Used For

Muscle relaxants are usually used to treat acute to chronic pains. They are often prescribed for neck pain, back pain, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, and myofascial pain syndrome. Some of them come with a sedative effect and work by acting directly on fibers and suppressing the Central Nervous System of an individual. However, some prescription relaxers such as Baclofen, Tizanidine, and Methocarbamol work on the brain or spinal cord to damp down the stimulated pathways.

A medical doctor prescribes relaxant medicines if anti-inflammatory medicines or over-the-counter pain relievers do not help in getting relief from musculoskeletal pain. In this section, how relaxers help with various pains and similar conditions will be discussed.

Muscle Relaxers For Neck Pain

These muscle relaxants work for spasms in the neck, but they are recommended for initial and short-term treatment of pain. In a clinical trial in the USA, even low-dose cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril) can already be used to treat this condition. 

Other muscle relaxers for neck pain include:

  • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Metaxalone (Skelaxin)
  • Orphenadrine (Norgesic)

These muscle relaxers for neck pain cannot be considered as best because they are only going to work on a short-term basis, up to 2 or 3 weeks. If one is looking for quick muscle relaxers for neck pain, an individual can opt for natural relaxers such as chamomile or other herbs, or consider getting physical therapy.

Muscle Relaxants For Back Pain

Baclofen, Tizanidine, Soma, Norflex, and Flexeril are muscle relaxants for back pain that work on the spinal cord and treat spasticity caused by cerebral palsy and spinal cord injury. They lead to complete recovery by blocking the feeling of pain so that they can get the rest they require to heal. But muscle relaxants for back pain should not be the first preference of an individual as they are sedating and can make a person have their habit.

According to researchers from The Netherlands, these drugs may be effective for the treatment of lower back pain. However, side effects should be considered. Thus these relaxers are also not recommended for people aged 65 or above as they are many effective natural alternatives that are safer than them. The natural muscle relaxants for back pain that one considers include blueberries, arnica, protein, and cherry juice.

Do muscle relaxers help with anxiety?

Some users of these drugs may wonder, do muscle relaxers help with anxiety? Relaxant medicines such as Flexeril, and Robaxin act as a calming agent to the central nervous system that helps with anxiety. But they only provide short-term relief from anxiety and depending on how long relaxers stay in your system, adverse effects such as drowsiness, tiredness, or nausea may be experienced. Consistent with a clinical trial from Italy, a dose of 10 mg cyclobenzaprine not only improves the quality of sleep but also reduces anxiety.

Muscle Relaxers For Sciatica

According to researchers from Sydney, relaxants such as Flexeril are one of the medications prescribed to get relief from the pain and discomfort that is associated with sciatica. But muscle relaxers for sciatica are not the best option for pain as it confuses older people.

Depending on the pain, these muscle relaxers for sciatica should only be used in the initial stages. At times, some individuals consider the usage of opioid medication such as Tramadol to treat severe pain but make sure that the combination of Tramadol and relaxers is not consumed as they interact with each other. Like other drugs, muscle relaxer interactions are always possible with muscle relaxers for sciatica.

Muscle Relaxers for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

According to a clinical professor from Missouri, relaxants are used to relieve pelvic floor muscle spasms. But these muscle relaxers for pelvic floor dysfunction do not act directly on the health condition. Instead, they work by reducing overall muscle tone. These muscle relaxers for pelvic floor dysfunction have similar effects to antidepressants and are best taken at night because of their sedative effects. Aside from cyclobenzaprine, baclofen can also be used for the management of this health condition.

Muscle Relaxants for Esophageal Spasms

In a study from Switzerland, the use of muscle relaxants for esophageal spasms is also possible. However, before a medical doctor prescribes muscle relaxants for esophageal spasms, herbal and natural remedies are usually used first. One of the common natural remedies used for esophageal spasms includes peppermint oil.

Muscle Relaxers Help with Pain

Muscle Relaxers For Period Cramps

The contraction of smooth muscles causes menstrual cramps. So, a subset of prescription relaxants such as spasmolytics can only help. Unlike magnesium and other common pain relievers for menstrual cramps, muscle relaxants only work best for skeletal muscles and are not considered helpful for cramps. Therefore, one should always go for regular painkillers for cramps, as advised by a doctor.

Muscle Relaxers For TMJ

Muscle relaxants such as Metaxalone, Alprazolam, and Carisoprodol can be used to get relief from pain and discomfort due to TMJ. TMJ relaxers work on the face and jaw and decrease muscle spasms. As these medicines are strong, one should only use them for the duration, as prescribed by the doctor.

Muscle Relaxers For Sleep

Muscle relaxers are ideally prescribed for acute pain. But they also serve as an effective medication if the pain causes trouble with sleeping. Relaxants such as Soma and Flexeril cause drowsiness and help get sleep if taken at night. In a pilot study from Michigan, cyclobenzaprine is used to manage sleep disturbances. Additionally, it is vital to note that drowsiness is considered a side effect, and one should not rely on these drugs for getting proper rest or sleep.

Muscle Relaxers For Fibromyalgia

A low dose of relaxants such as Flexeril and Zanaflex help people with fibromyalgia feel less pain and sleep better. According to medical doctors from Washington, these drugs can improve health conditions but do not work as soon as possible. Furthermore, muscle relaxant side effects may include chest pain, nausea, or fever. One can also not use this medicine in the daytime due to its sedation effect, with the exception being Skelaxin as it does not affect the central nervous system.

Muscle Relaxers For Tension Headaches

Tizanidine (Zanaflex) is a relaxer that can be used to treat tension headaches. According to a 2009 study published in the US National Library of Medicine, relaxants are not found to be effective for tension headaches. They also do not play a significant role in the treatment of TTH. One can turn to simple analgesics or acetaminophen for the treatment of tension headaches, but only with the recommendation of a medical doctor.

Muscle Relaxers For Migraines

According to a study published on NCBI, Baclofen is found to be 86.2% effective in headache reduction from baseline. It is also known to be effective for the preventative treatment of migraines. Irrespective of the relaxant one intakes, an individual can experience one or more side effects. Some relaxant side effects overdose symptoms include dry mouth, decreased blood pressure, dry mouth, fatigue, weakness, and drowsiness.

One should also not combine alcohol and muscle relaxants as the combination makes it hard to think, does not allow a person to function normally, and increases the risk of accidents as well. If an individual does, immediate drug detox should be considered to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

How Often Can You Take Muscle Relaxers?

Patients may also wonder, how often can you take muscle relaxers? Relaxants are generally prescribed for a short time, as they can be addictive for some people. Another reason why they are not a good option is that they are sedative and make one feel tired. But how long does it take for muscle relaxers to kick in? Some relaxers start working within 30 minutes of taking them, and their effects can last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. According to medical doctors from the USA, the recommended dosage of relaxers is 1,500 mg four times a day for three to four days.

Can You Drive on Muscle Relaxers?

Always remember that one of the side effects and overdose symptoms of these drugs include drowsiness. Thus, it is highly recommended to avoid operating any machinery when these medications are used. As stated above, these drugs are supposed to be taken at bedtime because of their sedative effects. Taking them in the morning or before doing any work may cause health dangers, including vehicular accidents due to the inability to decide and think properly, especially during a muscle relaxer overdose.

Can You Drive on Muscle Relaxers

Take Muscle Relaxers With Caution

Indeed, relaxers are effective medications to manage pain conditions and sleep disturbances. With the possibility of muscle relaxer addiction, users of these medications should know how to properly take these drugs. To manage the risks and symptoms associated with these drugs, consider professional medical treatment for effective results. It is recommended to take them before one sleeps, especially if an individual has never used them before.

So, whether someone is suffering from back pain or is dealing with a medical condition that can cause muscle spasms, it is best to seek a rehabilitation program or consult an expert physician. There are inpatient rehab centers and outpatient rehab centers patients could choose from. At these resources, addiction specialists could provide a relapse prevention plan for a successful recovery.

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Published on: August 14th, 2019

Updated on: June 20th, 2022

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.