Muscle relaxants are not really a class of drugs, but rather a group of different drugs that each has an overall sedative effect on the body. These drugs do not act directly on the muscles; rather they act centrally (in the brain) and are more of a total body relaxant.
Typically, muscle relaxants are prescribed early in a course of back pain, on a short-term basis, to relieve low back pain associated with muscle spasms. There are several types of muscle relaxant medications that are commonly used to treat low back pain.
Muscle Relaxant Medications List
- Carisoprodol (Soma). This drug’s dosage is 350mg every eight hours as needed for muscle spasm. Soma is typically prescribed on a short-term basis and may be habit-forming, especially if used in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs that have a sedative effect.
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). This medication can be used on a longer-term basis and actually has a chemical structure related to some antidepressant medications, although it is not an antidepressant. Usually, it is prescribed as 10mg every six hours as needed to relieve low back pain associated with muscle spasm, or it can also be prescribed as 10mg at night as needed to help with difficulty sleeping. Flexeril can impair mental and physical function and may lead to urinary retention in males with large prostates.
- Diazepam (Valium). Valium is usually limited to one to two weeks of use, and the typical dosage is 5-10 mg every six hours as needed to relieve low back pain associated with muscle spasm. Because of its habit-forming potential, and because it changes sleep cycles and makes it very difficult to sleep after stopping the drug, Valium should not be used long term. Patients should also note that Valium is a depressant and can worsen depression associated with chronic pain.
Oral steroids, a non-narcotic type of prescription medication, are very powerful anti-inflammatory medications that are sometimes effective treatment for low back pain. Like narcotics agents, oral steroids are intended for use for short periods of time (one to two weeks). Oral steroids come in many forms, but are usually ordered as a Medrol Dose Pack in which patients starts with a high dose for initial low back pain relief and then taper down to a lower dose over five or six days.
When used on a short-term basis, there are generally few complications associated with oral steroids. There are, however, a number of potential complications associated with long-term usage of oral steroids. Adverse side effects can include weight gain, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, the collapse of the hip joint, as well as other complications.
It is important to note that diabetics should not use oral steroids since the medication increases blood sugar. Steroids should also not be taken by patients with an active infection (e.g. sinus infection, urinary tract infection) because they can make the infection worse.