What Do Muscle Relaxers Do?
It isn’t a surprise when physicians prescribe pain pills for pain associated with some injuries, medical conditions, or diseases. It might surprise you when they prescribe muscle relaxers to take instead of or in combination with pain pills. If your condition causes muscle spasms, these medications can help make you more comfortable.
How Muscles Work
Your muscles move your body, allow you to chew your food, and keep your heart pumping. They respond to signals from your brain and use energy from the food you eat. Two types of muscle, striated and smooth, are responsible for the voluntary and involuntary movements throughout your body.
Molecules within the muscle fibers in striated muscles allow the muscle to contract. A contraction is the “shortening” of the muscle, which usually occurs suddenly. The most important molecule that contributes to the contraction and the responding movement is calcium.
A muscle spasm is the involuntary contraction of the muscle. Spasms occur when muscle tissue doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, from overuse or fatigue, excessive heat, or strain. For example, in peripheral artery disease, the narrowing of arteries reduces the delivery of blood and nutrients to the muscles. This can result in spasms and cramps in the legs. Other diseases that sometimes result in muscle spasms are diabetes, kidney disease, and others. Whatever causes the muscle spasm, or what part of the body it affects, they usually occur suddenly, resolve quickly, and often cause pain.
Diseases of and injuries to the nervous system can also cause muscles spasms. These include multiple sclerosis and brain or spinal cord injuries. The areas where muscle spasms occur are usually striated muscle. The striations, or parallel lines throughout the muscle, contain high levels of the protein that carries oxygen and nutrients. But some smooth muscle can also result in spasms. Muscle relaxers might be prescribed in any of these acute or chronic conditions.
What Are Muscle Relaxers and How Do They Work?
Muscle relaxers are medications that relax muscles to prevent spasms. Conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy affect the muscles. So do some injuries, especially those to the head or back. Sports injuries or those caused by a car accident might cause whiplash or lower back pain. Muscle relaxers cause the muscles to relax, reducing pain and discomfort. Some of the most commonly prescribed muscle relaxers are:
Muscle relaxants work by relaxing the muscle so that it no longer contracts. Some work on the central nervous system while others work directly on the muscle. Muscle relaxers are only available in prescription form and they typically come in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. Some are given as injections and cannabis extract is sprayed in the mouth. The doctor will prescribe a drug that is right for your condition. You can’t buy this type of medication over-the-counter. Never share your prescription with other people or take someone else’s muscle relaxers. Also, don’t mix them with antihistamines or alcohol.
The different drugs on the list of muscle relaxers act differently. Some are better for use in some conditions than others. Although all of these drugs can cause drowsiness, they differ in the other side effects they cause. Some lead to loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin or eyes. Others cause confusion, headaches, or general muscle weakness. Some side effects are minimal, while others can be serious. One example is that of cyclobenzaprine, which can cause hearth problems or heart failure.
Some muscle relaxers can lead to dependency if taken for too long. For example, if you take diazepam for longer than two weeks, you can become dependent on it. If that happens, stopping the drug suddenly will lead to withdrawal symptoms. These include vomiting, anxiety, and insomnia.
People with certain medical conditions shouldn’t take certain muscle relaxers. Those with stomach ulcers or epilepsy, diabetes, or mental health problems are advised against taking baclofen. Those with lung problems should avoid diazepam, and dantrolene isn’t advised for people with heart, liver, or breathing problems.
Do I Need a Muscle Relaxer?
Muscle relaxers are usually prescribed for acute pain conditions due to their risk for misuse and addiction. We often worry about taking pain pills for their high addiction capacity. Many people don’t realize the high risk of abuse and addiction that applies to muscle relaxers too. Carisoprodol, for example, is a type of muscle relaxer that comes with a relatively high risk of addiction because of its strong relaxing effect. Some of these drugs have a tranquilizing effect that makes you feel calm when you use them.
All of these factors go into the decision your doctor makes when prescribing muscle relaxers. Even if you are given one, it might take more than one to find the one that works best for you.
If you have a painful condition that involves the muscles, you might be given one of these medications. Stopping muscle spasms can help reduce your pain while your body heals. The medication also improves the mobility of the muscles. Considering the potential for harmful side effects, it is important to provide your prescribing doctor with a complete medical history. Women should also let their doctor know if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Some muscle relaxants are rated safer for use during pregnancy than others.
Muscle Relaxers for Lower Back Pain
One of the most common reasons doctors prescribe muscle relaxers is for lower back pain. That’s because it’s one of the most common complaints people have. An estimated 80% of all people will experience lower back pain during their lifetime. The most common causes of acute lower back pain are sprains or strains. These tears in the tendons or muscle result from twisting or lifting something that’s heavy.
Other causes of lower back pain include degenerated, herniated, or ruptured discs, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and traumatic injuries from car accidents or from playing sports. Less common causes include kidney stones, tumors, infections, and fibromyalgia.
Most of the time, a doctor will only prescribe muscle relaxers for acute pain conditions. Your doctor will investigate the cause of your pain and determine the best treatment plan. They might recommend taking over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen first. If NSAIDs don’t work, they might prescribe a prescription strength pain reliever and/or muscle relaxants to give you relief. You will probably need to take the latter at night to help with sleep and to keep you from being drowsy during the day.
Your doctor might recommend additional treatments to help control your pain and enhance the use of muscle relaxers. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and only take the medication as prescribed. Some tips for optimizing the effects of your pain treatment include:
- Applying ice and/or heat packs might reduce inflammation and reduce pain.
- Perform stretches and do strengthening exercises to keep muscles flexible. Avoid activities that aggravate your pain.
- Consider taking a physical therapy program to help strengthen the muscles that support the lower back.
- Talk to your doctor about any regular or over-the-counter medications you are taking. There might be a risk of interactions that could cause serious side effects from the muscle relaxers.
Tech Neck: The “New” Muscle Injury
The country seems to have an addiction to our gadgets. People of every age and in every walk of life are walking around with their cell phones in their hands. If you’ve started to feel pain and stiffness in your neck after spending hours using your gadgets, it could be a condition called “tech neck.”
The dominant symptom of tech neck is pain in the neck. Sometimes the pain radiates out to the back and/or shoulders, and you might have headaches, too. These occur from muscles spasms in the neck.
Fortunately, treating tech neck is simple. It requires some commonsense steps like taking frequent breaks from using your devices. Use your gadget at the same level as your eyes instead of always leaning over it. Maintain good posture and get plenty of exercise that supports your core muscles. Apply cold and/or heat if it provides relief.
Why Muscle Relaxers Aren’t Always a Good Option
We’ve talked about the potential side effects and interactions caused by some muscle relaxers. Although doctors might consider them necessary for some conditions, they aren’t always a good choice.
Like tech neck, the pain from some conditions can be effectively treated with conservative methods. It is especially risky to use these powerful drugs for chronic conditions. It isn’t just the dangerous side effects that damage your health that you should consider. It’s also those that interfere with your everyday capabilities.
If you’ve experienced a severely painful injury, you might be desperate for any degree of pain relief. If your doctor believes muscle relaxers can safely provide pain relief for the short term, they might be a good idea. But understand that these drugs don’t always work. Sometimes the side effects make you feel worse than your injury.
Some people have medical conditions that prevent them from taking pain medication. Even over-the-counter NSAIDs are off limits. If you can’t take pain pills, your doctor might prescribe muscle relaxers instead.
What if your injury or illness isn’t so severe to prevent you from going to work? Although tech neck and lower back pain make sitting at a desk or picking up even small weights painful, you might have the option to work around activities that cause you pain.
On the other hand, think about the side effects you’ll likely feel from muscle relaxers. You might be sleepy or drowsy, feel fatigued, weak, dizzy, or light-headed. Sometimes these drugs lower your blood pressure, cause dry mouth, and even make you feel depressed. You might have some or all of these common side effects.
Another problem is that you can’t drive yourself to and from work. If your job requires you to operate machinery or to perform technical tasks, your medication could put you and others at a greater risk of harm.
Muscle relaxers are most often recommended for acute muscle spasms and/or back pain that lasts no more than two or three weeks. If you have a chronic condition or the same problem reoccurs from time to time, muscle relaxers won’t be effective. Talk to your doctor about the best long-lasting treatment for your pain.
Spinal Alignment: A Lasting Approach to Pain Relief
Lower back disorders, facial pain, TMJ, and headaches are common conditions that can all result from a misaligned spine. Many of the stresses you place on your spine every day can lead to misalignment. Regular adjustments are an effective way to avoid the tightness in muscles that leads to muscle spasms. A chiropractor can help you prevent muscles spasms and avoid the need for medications.
Chiropractic adjustments help align the body and take pressure off of the nerves and soft tissue throughout the body. This reduces the signals sent from the nerves to your brain that cause involuntary muscle contractions to occur.
You can also use several conservative steps including eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated. Making a few changes to your diet and replacing sugary, caffeine-rich drinks with water can help.
It isn’t natural to have muscle spasms regularly. A body that is no longer in alignment isn’t functioning naturally either. Once a misalignment causes your posture to shift, it affects your entire body.
Muscle relaxers provide a temporary solution for a symptom, not for its cause. They treat muscle spasms and reduce pain instead of treating the muscle or tissue that is sending the nerve signal to the brain.
Alignment restores your body to its original design. Regular adjustments can help reduce or eliminate muscle spasms and the other symptoms that often accompany them. They address the cause of the symptoms instead of treating the symptom itself.
The True Spine Difference
National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) is a chiropractic technique that specializes in the alignment between the head and neck. True Spine uses a gentle, effective, and lasting technique to reduce your misalignment, bringing your spine to the most ideal position possible. It doesn’t involve medications so there are no dangerous side effects to worry about. Contact True Spine to schedule a free consultation today.