Muscle relaxers, also called muscle relaxants, are a type of medication used to treat muscle spasticity or muscle spasms. Muscle cramps and spasms occur when there are sudden and involuntary contractions of a group of muscles or singular muscle. Some muscle spasms are caused by excess muscle strain, and while some cramps can be caused by temporary muscle fatigue, they can also be caused by chronic conditions. Neck pain, lower back pain, and fibromyalgia all tend to present with cramping. Muscle spasticity occurs when a muscle continuously spasms to the point of tightness, rigidity, or stiffness. This condition can interfere with normal movement, talking, or walking. It is caused by conditions that injure the brain or spinal cord. Muscle relaxers are often necessary to treat these conditions, but it’s important to know the side effects to watch out for.
Dizziness is a common side effect of centrally acting skeletal muscle relaxants (SMRs). A centrally acting SMR is prescribed alongside physical therapy and rest to help with muscle spasm relief. They act on the central nervous system by creating a sedating effect or preventing the nerves from transmitting pain signals to the brain. Because the effects of long-term use aren’t proven, patients shouldn’t use these for longer than two to three weeks. Patients experiencing dizziness might have trouble keeping their balance and get suddenly lightheaded when they stand up. Though dizziness isn’t always a sign of a serious problem, patients should talk to a doctor if it’s interfering with their day-to-day life. They also shouldn’t drive a car or do other potentially dangerous tasks until they’re aware of how the medication affects them. Individuals shouldn’t take muscle relaxants with alcohol or other CNS depressants, as this can lead to worse dizziness and potential coma or death.
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Fatigue Or Drowsiness
Fatigue and drowsiness are also common side effects of a muscle relaxer that works on the central nervous system. This is another reason individuals shouldn’t drive or do potentially dangerous activities until they’re aware of how they affect them. Some patients might find muscle relaxers make them fall asleep much more quickly than trying to sleep without these medications. Individuals, of course, shouldn’t take these medications with alcohol, as if they do, the fatigue they cause can be just the start of a potentially life-threatening reaction. If patients find the fatigue they’re experiencing is interfering with their daily life, they should talk to a doctor about alternative options for treatment. It’s important not to combine muscle relaxers with sleeping medications or depressant drugs like opioids. Individuals also shouldn’t use them with St. John’s wort or other similar herbal supplements. Patients who have liver problems, who have a neurological disorder or mental health issue, or who are older than sixty-five, should talk to their doctor about how to safely mitigate the effects of muscle relaxers.
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Any muscle relaxant individuals take will have some side effects, especially if it acts on the central nervous system. Depression is a common side effect of muscle relaxers. The symptoms will typically go away once patients stop taking the relaxer or lower their dose. Many muscle relaxers work by inhibiting the central nervous system function. This helps relieve the pain from muscle spasms and spasticity by keeping individuals from feeling it as fully. However, it can also cause their emotions to feel blunted and thoughts to feel sluggish and slow. Clinical depression occurs when individuals feel intensely sad or empty in ways that interfere in day-to-day life. To receive an official diagnosis of major depression, these feelings must continue for at least two weeks. Many patients with clinical depression feel worthless, helpless, and hopeless. They may lose interest in their plans for the future, stop connecting with their friends and family, and struggle to enjoy activities that previously brought them pleasure. If someone is feeling depressed, they should talk to a doctor.
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Reduced Blood Pressure
Depending on the drug and the way it works within the body, individuals might experience reduced blood pressure as a result of muscle relaxants. This isn’t always a bad thing, especially if patients had slightly elevated blood pressure to begin with. However, if they already take medication to lower their blood pressure, it may interact with the relaxant and cause their blood pressure to become too low. Low blood pressure is defined as any reading lower than 90/60, but the ideal blood pressure is 120/80. When blood pressure is low on a long-term basis, it’s usually not cause for concern, as naturally low blood pressure doesn’t tend to cause symptoms. However, when an individual’s blood pressure drops suddenly, it can cause their brain to be deprived of oxygen because it isn’t getting adequate blood supply. A sudden blood pressure drop happens most often when individuals get up from a seated position or sit up after laying down. When this happens, individuals might suddenly feel dizzy and faint. Some also experience low blood pressure if they stand for long periods.
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Muscle weakness is a common side effect of muscle relaxers. In most cases, this isn’t cause for concern. Different muscle relaxers may cause different levels of potential weakness. As they ease muscle spasms or muscle spasticity, they may make it difficult for the muscle to contract fully, which leads the muscle to be unable to support the same weight it usually can, otherwise known as muscle weakness. Mild muscle weakness is an expected part of muscle relaxers. However, if the muscle weakness is serious enough to impair a patient’s mobility or day-to-day activities, they should talk to their doctor. Patients should also talk to their doctor if they feel like the weakness is accompanied by other muscle symptoms like pain and fatigue. Some muscle weakness is expected, especially when treating muscle spasticity. To reduce spasticity, the drugs have to reduce the muscle’s ability to contract.
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