Muscle relaxants are pharmaceutical medications that are designed to cause a relaxation of muscles that have become tight or gone into spasm. Some of the most common muscle relaxants include Valium (Diazepam), Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine), and Soma (Carisoprodol). These drugs are usually designed to be taken at home, not on the job or driving, due to their mild sedative effect and the tendency to cause some drowsiness.
Muscle Spasms in the back are one of the most common causes for emergency room visits in the US. Back spasms are an immediate response by the body to an injury of a back muscle or structural element of the spine essential to the stability of the spine. When a back muscle or other structural element becomes injured, the local nervous system goes into effect, immediately supplying the main nerve of that area of an injury. As a response, a distress signal is sent through that nerve to all the muscles supplying that nerve, which causes tension in the muscle, or a full blown muscle spasm. This tension in the muscle may continue for days, until the original injury that triggered the muscle response has healed itself. In some cases, though, muscular tension may continue long after the original injury has healed itself, which may be a cause of chronic back pain. In most cases, though, a back spasm is a temporary, albeit painful and disabling, injury that resolves itself regardless of the treatment applied to it, That being said, medications such as muscle relaxants may provide some pain relief and a sedative effect for a condition that is painful enough to cause complete immobility to the patient.
Muscle relaxants do not act on one particular muscle group or part of the body, but rather they promote an overall state of relaxation of the skeletal muscles of the body. This class of drugs may be used to treat hyperflexia (overactive or overresponsive reflexes), back pain, and muscle spasms.
There are two main groups of muscle relaxants:
- Neuromuscular-blocking drugs: drugs which cause paralysis of affected skeletal muscles. Most of the drugs within this group are delivered by injection directly into the affected skeletal muscles. Examples of these drugs include Rapacuronium (Raplon), Doxacurium (Nuromax), and Pipecuronium. Administration of these drugs is performed in controlled medical environments due to the possible side effects of depressing respiratory functioning.
- Spasmolysics (Antispasmodics): these include drugs that are taken as oral medications, though there are several types of herbs that produce the same effect of suppressing muscle spasms. Spasmolysics affect the central nervous system to suppress muscle spasms. Examples of some of the most common spasmolytics for use to treat muscle spasms include tizanidine, orphenadrine, carisoprodol, and cyclybenzaprine. The drugs in this group have the effect of reducing the spasticity of the affected muscles. Spasticity is a state of heightened and continued muscle tone (muscular tension) that causes stiffness in that muscle and the part of the body supplied by that muscle. These drugs are usually used to treat temporary conditions related to acute muscle injuries, but they may also be used to treat chronic spinal cord disease conditions such as spinal myelopathy.
Natural Muscle Relaxants: All of the drugs just mentioned are pharmaceutical in origin, and carry with it the possibility of dependence (low risk) and other possible complications such as urinary retention and enlargement of the prostate. Luckily, there are a variety of natural muscle relaxants that produce similar benefits to tense muscles. Let's take a look at one.
- Black Cohosh, also known as fairy candle and black snakeroot, is native to eastern North America and grows from southern Canada and all the way into Georgia. Like the pharmacy spasmolytics, the active ingredient of this plant has anti-inflammatory, sedative, and analgesic effects.