Updated on April 3, 2024
6 min read

How Muscle Relaxers Affect the Body & Their Potential Risks

Key Takeaways

Muscle pain and spasms can be incredibly disruptive, making everyday tasks and simple relaxation challenging. If you're struggling with this kind of discomfort, muscle relaxers could offer welcome relief.

While muscle relaxers can be helpful for managing specific conditions, it's important to be aware of the risks involved, including their potential side effects and the possibility of addiction. In this article, we'll discuss these aspects to help you make informed decisions about your health.

Remember, working closely with your healthcare provider is always the best way to ensure safe and effective use of muscle relaxers.

Are Muscle Relaxers Addictive?

Yes, muscle relaxers have the potential for dependence and addiction, primarily if used for a long time or taken in large doses.

Some muscle relaxers are classified as controlled substances due to their high potential for addiction. These include Soma (carisoprodol) and Valium (diazepam).

While not all muscle relaxers are considered as powerfully addictive as Soma or Valium, medications like Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine), Robaxin (methocarbamol), and Zanaflex (tizanidine) still carry some risk of abuse and addiction.

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What are the Signs of an Addiction to Muscle Relaxers?

If you’re concerned about using muscle relaxers, talk to your healthcare provider immediately. They can help diagnose if you’re addicted to these medications and help you with a recovery plan.

Early identification can help you get the support you need. You can also keep an eye out for the following signs of muscle relaxer addiction:

  • Increased dosage needs to get the same level of relief
  • Compulsive use despite negative consequences
  • Isolation from loved ones and enjoyable activities to focus on obtaining or using muscle relaxers
  • Neglect of responsibilities at work, school, or home life
  • Mounting financial difficulties due to muscle relaxer use
  • Risky behaviors like driving under the influence of muscle relaxers
  • Hiding your muscle relaxer use or lying about it to loved ones
  • Emotional instability, irritability, or mood swings, especially during periods without the drug
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don't take the medication
  • Strong cravings for muscle relaxers
  • Noticeable changes in physical appearance, hygiene, and behavior

Because addiction can lead to people using more of the drug than they should, it also increases the risk of physical side effects. These include:

  • Intense drowsiness and fatigue
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Muscle weakness and incoordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion, forgetfulness, and impaired thinking
  • Anxiety, agitation, or mood swings
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Respiratory difficulties (in severe cases)

Muscle Relaxant Withdrawal Symptoms

Stopping muscle relaxers after prolonged use can be difficult. Your body may have become dependent on the medication, leading to withdrawal symptoms if you quit abruptly.

These symptoms can be uncomfortable, but it can be helpful to know what to expect. Some of the withdrawal symptoms you could experience include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Malaise
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Rebound symptoms where there’s increased muscle tension, spasms, and discomfort
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Mood changes
  • Sweating, chills, tremors, and shaking

These symptoms usually peak between two and four days after the last dose, but they can last up to two weeks.

Signs of Muscle Relaxant Overdose

Overdose of muscle relaxants is a serious medical emergency, and taking prompt action can save a life.

If you see any of the following overdose signs, seek medical help immediately:

  • Stupor
  • Hallucinations
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Hyperventilation
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Chest pain
  • Cardiac arrest
  • A significant drop in blood pressure
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (fever, muscle rigidity, altered mental state)

What to Do in Case of Muscle Relaxant Overdose?

You should never ignore a suspected muscle relaxant overdose. Some measures you can take include calling emergency services immediately.

You can move the person on their side to keep their airway open and prevent them from choking. If the person isn’t breathing or has no pulse, a person trained in CPR may need to step in.

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How Do You Treat Muscle Relaxant Addiction?

The most common treatment methods for muscle relaxant addiction include:

If you or someone you know suffers from a muscle relaxant addiction, contact your healthcare provider to review treatment options.

Non-Drug Alternatives to Muscle Relaxers

Muscle relaxers can ease muscle pain and spasms. However, they may come with side effects and a risk of addiction.

If you want to explore alternatives to muscle relaxers, here are some non-drug remedies you can explore and discuss with your provider:

  • Magnesium: Consume magnesium-rich foods like bananas, almonds, legumes, and brown rice to aid muscle and nerve function.
  • Epsom salt baths: The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salts can be absorbed through the skin, potentially aiding muscle relaxation and pain relief.
  • Cherry juice: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, tart cherry juice may help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation.
  • Arnica oil: When applied topically, arnica oil may help alleviate pain, inflammation, and muscle damage. It's commonly used for exercise-related injuries.
  • Chamomile: Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties because of its flavonoid content.
  • Cayenne pepper: Capsaicin, which gives chili peppers heat, can benefit people with fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. You can use cayenne pepper when cooking or topically in cream form for muscle spasms.
  • Peppermint oil: When massaged onto muscles, it creates a cooling sensation and relieves pain.
  • Turmeric: Curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving compound, is found in turmeric. Enjoy turmeric tea or cook with it to experience its benefits.
  • Blueberry: These are rich in antioxidants and can help combat inflammation and muscle soreness.
  • Vitamin D: Regular sun exposure and consuming foods rich in Vitamin D, like eggs and fish, can contribute to healthy muscle function and may help prevent muscle spasms.
  • Rest and hydration: Sometimes, the most effective remedy is simply allowing your body to rest and recover. Ensure you sleep well and stay hydrated to support your muscles' natural healing process.

Muscle pain and spasms can be incredibly frustrating and disruptive, making it hard to enjoy your everyday life. While muscle relaxers can offer relief, it's important to be aware of their potential side effects and the risk of addiction.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to help you weigh the potential benefits and risks of this medication. There are also natural ways to manage muscle discomfort. Adding magnesium to your diet, practicing gentle stretches, or taking a warm Epsom salt bath can all provide soothing relief.

If you're considering muscle relaxers, openly conversing with your healthcare provider is crucial. They can help you explore all your options and find the safest and most effective way to manage your muscle pain.

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Updated on April 3, 2024
14 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024
  1. Drug Overdose Death Rates.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.
  2. Li et al. “Utilization Patterns of Skeletal Muscle Relaxants Among Commercially Insured Adults in the United States from 2006 to 2018.” Pain Medicine, 2021.
  3. Witenko et al. “Considerations For The Appropriate Use Of Skeletal Muscle Relaxants For The Management Of Acute Low Back Pain.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2014.
  4. Patel et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Combination of NSAIDs and Muscle Relaxants in the Management of Acute Low Back Pain.” Pain and Therapy, 2019.
  5. Richards et al. “Muscle relaxants for pain management in rheumatoid arthritis.” Research Gate, 2012.
  6. Austin, D. “Everything to know about muscle relaxers: When to take them and whether they're dangerous.” USA Today, 2023.
  7. CARISOPRODOL (Trade Name Soma).” United States Department of Justice, 2019.
  8. FLEXERIL® (CYCLOBENZAPRINE HCL) TABLETS.” United States Food and Drug Administration, 2013.
  9. See et al. “Skeletal Muscle Relaxants.” United States National Library of Medicine, 2008.
  10. See et al. “Choosing a Skeletal Muscle Relaxant.” American Family Physician, 2008.
  11. Soprano et al. “Assessment of Physician Prescribing of Muscle Relaxants in the United States, 2005-2016.” JAMA Network, 2020.
  12. UF Study Finds Some Combinations of Opioids and Muscle Relaxants Are Safe, Others Raise Overdose Risk." University of Florida College of Pharmacy, 2020.
  13. Non-Drug Approaches to Chronic Pain.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2023.
  14. Management of Pain without Medications.” Stanford Health.

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