Muscle spasms are a common source of spine-related pain. If you’re experiencing jarring involuntary muscle contractions or general soreness from overstretched or irritated spine-supporting muscles, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants. While these drugs can provide welcome relief, there are some important things to know about them.
The first step often taken with back pain management is to prescribe medication, but usually not muscle relaxants. Initially, doctors tend to recommend over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. If these medications fail to provide sufficient relief, muscle relaxants may then be prescribed. Medication is typically meant to ease pain so you can benefit from physical therapy and other common nonsurgical treatments that don’t involve medication.
If your spine-related musculoskeletal pain is sudden (acute), muscle relaxants may be more effective. This is more likely to be the case if muscle relaxants are used as a supplemental treatment within the first three weeks. And because these drugs have a sedative effect, they may also be used if you have fairly recent back pain that’s making it difficult to sleep.
The central nervous system (CNS) may be affected by muscle relaxants to the point where it slows down. The resulting effects of this CNS slowdown could include:
Because of risks of this nature, muscle relaxants may be better suited for younger patients. This may also be the case because seniors typically take other medications for underlying health issues, which increases the risk of potentially serious drug interactions.
Regardless of your age, there are potential side effects associated with muscle relaxants you should be aware of. The primary ones include:
Patients with existing heart, liver, or kidney problems typically need to take additional precautions with muscle relaxants. Even if you don’t have preexisting health issues, it’s important to report unusual or unexpected side effects to your doctor if muscle relaxants are prescribed for your back pain.
Don’t just abruptly stop taking prescribed muscle relaxants. The reason for this warning is because of the possibility of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These might include nausea and/or vomiting and difficulty sleeping. To reduce the withdrawal risk, dosages are usually reduced gradually and steadily.
Muscle relaxants also have the potential to be addictive with long-term use, and an overdose can be fatal, which is why it’s typically best to use these drugs for the shortest time possible. Your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon can also recommend non-medicinal treatments and lifestyle adjustments that may provide relief in a way that’s safer if it’s determined muscle relaxants aren’t appropriate for you.
When taking medications for spine conditions, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions. If you’re looking for a trusted spine specialist, reach out to The Spine Institute. We specialize in a wide variety of spinal procedures, from artificial disc replacement to transforaminal interbody fusion. Santa Monica patients can rely on our physicians to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find effective relief. To schedule an appointment, call our office at 310-828-7757.