Before we can talk about the need for muscle relaxers for sciatica pain, it's important to review exactly what sciatica pain is.
The sciatic nerve is the thickest and longest nerve in the body. There is one on both sides of the body.
It starts in the lower back and travels down the back of the leg all the way to the knee.
Sciatic pain is caused when this nerve gets pinched, usually in the buttocks area, which causes pain and inflammation. The pain can stay in the buttocks area or travel down the leg.
The five most common and best muscle relaxers are:
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are various types and brands of skeletal muscle relaxers and they can work in different ways.
The most common mechanism of action is a central nervous system depressant. This means that it causes a sedative effect which can prevent the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. This can also decrease the muscle tightness and muscle spasms.
Do Muscle Relaxers Help with Sciatica?
How long does it take for muscle relaxers to start working?
Each person and each medication is different but one of the most common muscle relaxers is Flexeril also known as cyclobenzaprine. It is a faxed acting medication.
The initial effects start within 30 minutes to one hour of taking the medication. It continues to act for up to six hours and can be taken generally three times per day.
As with other medications, it might take a day or two for the full effect of the medication to take place as the amount of medication builds up in the body.
If your medical provider prescribes a muscle relaxer for you, it is always advantageous to speak to the pharmacist when you pick up the medication.
Definitely ask them about the side effects as well as the length of time before you should be feeling the effects of the medication.
Do I need a prescription for muscle relaxers?
Yes, all muscle relaxers are prescription medications.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Muscle Relaxer
According to Kathee de Falla, PharmD, "There is very little research regarding which muscle relaxers are most effective, so the choice of which medication—or whether to use one at all—is based on factors such as a person’s reaction to the medication and personal preferences, potential for abuse, possible drug interactions, and adverse side effects."
Muscle relaxers are not a class of drugs. So this means that while they fall into that category, they might have a very different mechanism of action compared to others in the same category.
In her article, she also notes that the first muscle relaxer that is prescribed might not work the best for the patient and the provider might try another type to see if that works better.
A change might be made based on the negative side effects as well as the overall impact of the medications.
How Do Muscle Relaxers Help with Sciatica Pain?
Muscle relaxers do just that, they relax muscles. As we have talked about, sciatic pain is actually nerve pain so it might seem a little odd that muscle relaxers can help with sciatic pain.
When the muscles are able to relax, there is less pressure on the sciatic nerve.
If the pain is being caused by tight muscles that are compressing the sciatic nerve, this can most definitely help and alleviate pain.
It also allows the muscles to be stretched without severe pain. When muscles spasms are causing the sciatic pain, taking a muscle relaxer can be very helpful.
This indirect benefit will allow for pain relief from sciatic pain.
Medications to Avoid when Taking Muscle Relaxers
Much like the question about how long it takes for muscle relaxers to start working, the interactions with other medications is very specific to the muscle relaxer itself.
Cyclobenzaprine, or Flexeril is one of the most common that's the relaxers prescribed so we will speak about it here in this section.
Cyclobenzaprine can interact with many medications including certain antidepressants, sedatives, and medications like Benadryl.
It is important to talk to your health care provider about the current medications you take prior to starting a muscle relaxant and check with your provider before you take anything new including over the counter medications.
Potential Side Effects of Muscle Relaxers for Sciatica Pain
Muscle relaxers are a pill that you would swallow. Because of this, they are not directly going to the site of the pain.
There are some side effects. The most common side effects are sedation and dizziness. This means that someone might feel very tired or woozy after taking a muscle relaxer.
One of the other side effects could be potential liver or kidney problems. People who take muscle relaxers might also experience nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness.
Because of these side effects, it's important to discuss with your health care provider all of the side effects before starting a new medication.
Do Muscle Relaxers Treat the Underlying Cause of Sciatica or Symptoms?
Unfortunately, no. Muscle relaxers do not treat the underlying cause of sciatica. But fortunately, they do treat the symptoms.
As discussed, sciatic pain is nerve pain and muscle relaxers target muscles so the medications are not addressing the root cause of the sciatic pain.
It's appropriate to take the muscle relaxers if prescribed by your physician, but treating the underlying cause of sciatic pain is the best option for long term improvement.
There are other treatments for sciatic pain. Some of those include exercise, postural correction, heat/cold application, physical therapy and/or surgery.
Speaking to your medical provider is a great start to create a comprehensive plan to treat your sciatic pain.
Are Muscle Relaxers Safe to Use Long Term for Pain Relief?
In an article by the Cleveland Clinic, there is little research indicating whether muscle relaxers are more effective in treating pain long term as compared to NSAIDs or acetaminophen.
While they might be more effective in the moment, the side effects are different, so it is important for your provider to weigh the positive and negative effects before determining a long-term solution for pain relief.
It is also important to note that some muscle relaxers are controlled substances. This means that they have the potential to cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms if abruptly stopped.
As discussed, it is important to consider this factor with your health care provider before starting any muscle relaxer prescription.
In the end, muscle relaxers might be a treatment option for sciatic pain that would decrease the pain, but they are not a long term solution and there are other more valuable treatment options if sciatic pain is impairing your day-to-day life.