There is some evidence in medical literature of effectiveness of muscle relaxers when used for acute back or neck pain on a short-term basis (up to 2 or 3 weeks). They can promote recovery by blocking the feeling of pain, so people can get the rest they need to heal.
Common uses of muscle relaxants for back or neck pain include:
- During physical therapy. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed while the person is starting a new physical therapy program. The muscle relaxant may aid in range of motion during physical therapy, may help alleviating anxiety related to starting with physical therapy and exercise, and may aid in reducing flare-ups of muscle spasms.
- For muscle spasms. Muscles spasms occur when a muscle—or muscles—tighten up or cramps suddenly. The pain can be severe. When this happens in the back or neck, it is often caused by lifting a heavy object or twisting the body, leading to a strained muscle. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed along with pain relievers to ease the spasms.
Watch: Back Spasm Treatment Video
- Emergency room care. Checking to see if there is a serious problem is the initial focus of emergency room treatment for back pain. If the situation is not related to a serious underlying issue, such as an unstable fracture or a tumor, the person may be prescribed muscle relaxers with pain relievers for a short time to treat an intensely painful sprain or strain of muscles, ligaments, or tendons.
- Following spine surgery. Muscle spasms are common following surgery, even if the original pain has eased. In some cases, the muscle spasms occur in parts of the body well away from the surgery. Muscle relaxers are often given in the hospital and people may receive a prescription during the initial days or weeks of recovery at home. The doctor’s directions, and directions on the pill bottle, should be followed closely. It is useful to discuss in advance whether the doctor wants the medication to be taken on a set schedule, to stay ahead of the pain, or to be used as needed. It may be helpful to stagger doses of pain medication and muscle relaxers, rather than take both at the same time, so there is always some medication in the body and the pain does not become too intense as the medication is wearing off.
Muscle relaxers can be helpful in temporarily alleviating symptoms in the lower back.
Concern About Overuse
The use of muscle relaxers is controversial in the medical community. The growing use of these medications has drawn concern about overuse, adverse side effects, and limited evidence of their effectiveness—especially when used on an ongoing basis for a chronic condition.
Research is mixed on muscle relaxers. A number of research studies and analyses have found muscle relaxants to be more helpful than a placebo in easing symptoms of nonspecific acute low back pain in the short term.1,2 Other research, however, found that people visiting an emergency room for back pain received no additional benefit from taking muscle relaxers.3