Are Muscle Relaxants Safe for Treating Back Pain?

Prolonged sitting from office hours of 9 to 5 can result in back pain from poor posture, sedentary lifestyle, and lack of physical activity. For normal veinous circulation, skeletal muscle contraction is essential to ensure blood flow and prevent venous stasis. Therefore, prolonged sitting and poor circulation can be hazardous for the muscles in our extremities resulting in back pain, joint pain, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, bone pain, cervical radicular pain, and sciatica.

Back Pain

Back Pain

Americans are plagued with back pain as more and more people shift from jobs requiring physical labor to office jobs. Physicians are doling out muscle relaxants to an increasing number of patients complaining of joint and back pain. In addition, prescriptions for opioid painkillers are also increasing leading to serious drug addictions.

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Muscle relaxants such as Baclofen, cyclobenzaprine, tizanidine, and carisoprodol are being increasingly prescribed for short-term relief of back pain. However, patients are abusing muscle relaxants by chronically using them for longer than the prescribed time. In fact, the successful management of back pain is with physical therapy and maintaining a proper posture when forced to sit for prolonged durations.

Study on Long-Term Use of Muscle Relaxants

A study on the number of muscle relaxants prescribed between 2005 and 2016 increased by three-fold in just a decade. Most of the prescriptions were for patients with chief complaints of back and muscle pain.

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Data also indicated that more than 70% of patients with back pain were also prescribed opioid pain-relieving medications such as Oxycodone together with muscle relaxants. Combination treatment worsens the risk of side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache, constipation, urinary frequency, and fatigue. Chronic use can even be potentially fatal due to respiratory or cardiovascular depression, seizures, etc.

It has been hypothesized that physicians prescribe skeletal muscle relaxants in order to ward off the use of opioids for back pain. But it has been shown that people who are prescribed muscle relaxants continue to use these medications in order to get relief from their pain instead of going through physical therapy sessions.

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Muscle relaxants have been found to significantly increase risk factors in older people above age 65. In spite of this, 25% of the prescriptions for muscle relaxants were for seniors complaining of muscle, joint, and back pain. Elderly people are often taking a variety of medications for hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disorders, atherosclerosis, and so on increasing the risk of cross-reaction between these drugs.

Over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen in combination with physical therapy and proper posture are advised for back pain which not only has minimal adverse effects but is also more beneficial in altogether curing the pain.


Assessment of Physician Prescribing of Muscle Relaxants in the United States, 2005-2016

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