Are you currently prescribed or seeking a prescription for muscle relaxers to relieve chronic pain? If so, you should be aware that there are serious health risks associated with the use of these medications.
Muscle relaxers can be highly addictive and, for this reason, are not the best solution for long-term pain relief.
Some muscle relaxers can take as long as two weeks to be completely eliminated from your body. Understanding the side effects associated with these medications and the factors that contribute to addiction will help you determine whether this type of treatment is right for you.
Why is Half-Life Important?
A medication’s half-life is the amount of time it takes for half of the dose to be eliminated from your bloodstream.
The “steady state” is the point at which the medication reaches its full effectiveness and remains balanced in the bloodstream. The “steady state” of any the medication is approximately 4X its half-life.
For example, a medication with a half-life of 18 hours should reach its full effectiveness after 72 hours. After this point, the effectiveness will begin to decline and it will take the same amount of time for the medication to be completely eliminated from the bloodstream.
What Are Common Side Effects Associated With Muscle Relaxers?
Muscle relaxers are, most frequently, prescribed by doctors for the temporary relief of chronic pain caused by muscle strain or damage.
The following are some of the most common side effects experienced with this type of prescription medication:
- Dry mouth
Prolonged use of muscle relaxers can cause a buildup of the drug in your system. The buildup of the medication can lead to more serious side effects, such as liver or kidney disease, seizure, and heart arrhythmias.
You should not drink alcohol while using muscle relaxers. To avoid potential health risks, consult your doctor before using any over-the-counter medications or other prescription medications with muscle relaxers.
Two of the most common muscle relaxers are Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine) and Soma (Carisoprodol).
1. Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine)
Flexeril is chemically related to antidepressant medications. Flexeril begins to take effect within 20-30 minutes and remains effective for 4-6 hours. Flexeril’s half-life averages 18 hours but can range from 8-37 hours. The effectiveness period varies based on the following factors:
- Size of dose taken
- Amount of drug built up in the body
- Physical health
If Flexeril over-accumulates in your system, you are likely to experience the following effects:
- Urinary Retention
- Pressure around the eyes
After only one month, your body can build up a tolerance for Flexeril. Once you develop a tolerance, safe levels of the medication will no longer be effective. It is best to begin tapering off muscle relaxers after a few weeks, if possible, to reduce side effects and risk of overdose.
2. Soma (Carisoprodol)
Soma works by interacting with the nervous system to relax muscles and reduce pain. Like Flexeril, Soma begins working within 30 minutes and remains effective for 4 to 6 hours. Soma has a relatively short half-life of about 100 minutes. Depending on your metabolism, however, the half-life can extend to 3X as long.
The body breaks Soma down to its metabolite (byproduct) known as meprobamate. Meprobamate can remain in the body for 6 -17 hours, long after the effectiveness of the drug has worn off.
Additionally, meprobamate effects the body in the same way as tranquilizers, making it difficult to think and function properly.
Some of the more serious side effects associated with the use of Soma include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Burning of the eyes
Due to the high rate of addiction in people that use this medication, Soma is considered to be a schedule IV, controlled substance. Abrupt discontinuation of Soma should be avoided as this may cause one or more of the severe withdrawal symptoms shown below:
Soma has been linked to many cases of abuse. Taking these drugs without a prescription or taking more than the recommended dosage will increase your risk of addiction.
Alternative Treatments for Chronic Pain
The following are a list of alternative treatments for chronic pain that do not involve the use of medications:
- Stretching / Exercise
- Progressive Relaxation
Based on the information provided, muscle relaxers are not the best option for long-term pain relief. It is imperative that you pay attention to the warning signs.
If you are using muscle relaxers and have concerns about addiction, consider taking a break from the medication and incorporating some of the above therapies in the interim. Consult your doctor before stopping your medication and discuss with your doctor whether any of these therapies make sense for your situation.
When you begin experiencing any of the side effects mentioned above, inform your doctor right away. It may be necessary to adjust your dosage, reduce your frequency of intake or begin tapering off of the medication completely.