Are Muscle Relaxants a Good Idea for Back Pain?Should you take a muscle relaxant for back pain? Do they really work? Is it worth the risk of potential side effects? These are the questions a group of researchers asked in a recent study of back pain sufferers.
The answer is important because doctors prescribe these drugs for one-third of all back pain patients. Muscle relaxants have many possible side effects, including a dry mouth, sleepiness, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, and headaches. There's also the possibility of drug dependence and addiction.
Patients with nonspecific low back pain were included in this review. Nonspecific back pain means there's no known cause of the problem. Each patient was treated with muscle relaxants alone or muscle relaxants combined with other treatment.
These researchers found a strong link between the use of muscle relaxants and short-term pain relief for back pain. This was true even when compared with placebo treatment. Placebo means the patient receives a pill, but the patient doesn't know it's a sugar pill. Sometimes patients feel just as good after a placebo as with the drug. That wasn't the case here.
Many doctors still debate the use of muscle relaxants for low back pain. Everyone agrees the side effects can be severe. For this reason, they are used with caution. This study shows that muscle relaxants are helpful for back pain, but no one knows if they work better than other drugs. These authors propose another study to compare muscle relaxants with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Maurits W. van Tulder, PhD, et al. Muscle Relaxants for Nonspecific Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review Within the Framework of the Cochrane Collaboration. In Spine. September 1, 2003. Vol. 28. No. 17. Pp. 1978-1992.
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