The skeletal system consists of three types of muscles such as skeletal, smooth and cardiac. Among these, the skeletal muscles are associated with the movement of the body. These muscles often go through spasticity or spasm, which can cause pain and reduce the functional ability. The easiest way to get relief from this is using muscle relaxants. Most of the currently available muscle relaxers work on the skeletal muscles.
What is a Muscle Relaxer?
Muscle relaxants are the medications (drugs), which are used to treat the muscle spasm or spasticity. Chemically, these are diverse set of drugs. These chemical agents act on the skeletal muscles and reduce the muscle pain and spasm and allow the muscles to relax. A muscle relaxer is available in the form of tablets or capsules. They are also present in the form of injections to be injected into the spine. Besides synthetic muscle relaxers, there are home based muscle relaxants which include essential oils and herbs.
Types of Muscle Relaxers
There are three main types of muscle relaxers, which are often grouped together since they treat similar conditions and disorders as:
- Neuromuscular blocking agents.
- Skeletal muscle relaxants.
- Skeletal muscle relaxants combinations.
The term muscular relaxant refers to two broad classes as neuromuscular blockers and spasmolytics. The former class of drugs interferes with the transmission of pain sensation at the neuromuscular junction and does not act on the central nervous system (CNS). They are used for causing temporary paralysis required during surgery and intensive care procedures. Some examples of neuromuscular blockers include tubocurarine (a non-depolarizing agent) and succinylcholine (a depolarizing agent).
Spasticity means having stiff and rigid muscles, which arises from medical condition affecting the brain and/or spinal cord such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and stroke. Muscle spasms mainly arise due to headaches, back and neck pain and fibromyalgia, which mainly affect the muscles and the bones. Spasmolytics are medications that reduce musculoskeletal pain and spasms, relax the muscles and reduce spasticity in case of a variety of neurological disorders. These agents work by either increasing the level of inhibition (at motor neurons) or by decreasing the level of excitation (at synapse). Some examples of commonly prescribed spasmolytics include carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine, metaxalone and methocarbamol.
List of Common Muscle Relaxants
The following muscle relaxants are widely used, however they do not have FDA approval which includes:
- Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium and generics) and Botulinum Toxin (Botox).
- Analgesics such as acetaminophen and NSAIDs for muscle spasms.
- Opioids such as codeine and morphine.
- Quinine has been used for treatment of muscle cramps.
The following is the list of the licensed or FDA approved muscle relaxants:
Muscle Relaxants Used Specifically to Teat Muscle Spasms
- Soma is also known as Carisoprodol. It is used to relieve muscle strain and sprain. It blocks the pain sensation between brain and the nerve. Both physical treatment and rest are advised to be taken when one is on Soma medication.
- Imitrex (Sumantriptan) is used to treat migraines and a variety of muscle related disorders.
- Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprime) is a medication used for short term treatment of muscle spasms.
- Motrin along with Ibuprofen is used to reduce problems associated with muscle spasms.
- Skelaxin (Metaxalone) is a muscle relaxer which is prescribed to decrease muscle spasm and pain.
- Relafen (Nabumetone) is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) drug used to reduce muscle pain.
Muscle Relaxants Used Specifically to Treat Muscle Spasticity
- Baclofen (Lioresal) is used to treat muscle spasticity in case of patients with cerebral palsy. It is a fast acting drug and needs to be taken for a long period of time.
- Zanaflex (Tizanidine) is very effective in treating muscle spasticity in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis or in people with multiple spinal cord injuries. It is a fast acting medication and offers immediate relief from muscle spasticity.
- Dantrolene is used for treatment of muscle spasticity. It inhibits muscle contraction by releasing calcium which triggers muscle relaxation.
Disadvantages of Using Muscle Relaxants
The synthetic muscle relaxants should not be used for a long time since they have major side effects. The side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, weakness and addiction. They can also cause heart failure and paralysis.
Home Remedies That Serve as Muscle Relaxants
Alternative to synthetic medications, home based remedies such as use of essential oils such as lavender oil, arnica oil and cannabis oil also serve as muscle relaxants. In addition, consumption of certain herbs such as valerian, chamomile and Cayenne pepper also gives the same benefits of relaxing the muscles without the side effects. Also, the person experiencing persistent muscle pain, spasm or spasticity should make alterations in the diet which should include more vitamins and minerals. One can also take massage and get chiropractic therapy to reduce muscle pain. If the pain persists, other health conditions which might contribute towards the pain must be evaluated.
Synthetic muscle relaxers provide temporary relief from muscle pain, spasm and spasticity. Some of them are very fast acting, providing quick relief from symptoms. However, when used for a long time muscle relaxers can lead to serious side effects. Hence, one needs to be careful while using the medications. One can use them for short time period and then make use of home based remedies that work as muscle relaxers.