What Do Muscle Relaxers Do?

Share This Post

If you’ve ever struggled with lower back pain, had certain types of surgery, or are affected by certain chronic muscular conditions like multiple sclerosis, you are unfortunately familiar with the pain associated with muscle spasms and tightness.

When you’re in pain and you’ve tried over the counter pain relief medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen) with no relief, it can be frustrating to feel like there’s nothing that can be done.

In situations involving muscular injuries, muscle relaxants may be able to offer relief to patients in specific circumstances. So, what do muscle relaxers do and how do they work?

What Do Muscle Relaxers Do?

Muscle relaxers help to relieve spasms that may be occurring in your muscles as a result of injury or certain medical conditions. When experience spasticity, they begin to contract, twitch, cramp, and tighten out of your control, which can be extremely painful.

Doctors use muscle relaxers as treatment options to help reduce the discomfort associated with muscle spasms.

Although they are primarily used to treat chronic pain and spasm associated with chronic conditions like cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis, muscle relaxers have a general relaxing effect on the body that makes them useful in other situations as well.

Muscle relaxers are sometimes used to treat anxiety or difficulty sleeping (insomnia), and some doctors give muscle relaxers to their patients prior to surgery to help reduce discomfort and anxiety.

Muscle relaxants like diazepam or Valium can also be used to treat seizures. 

How Do Muscle Relaxers Work?

While we often refer to muscle relaxers as one class of medications, the medications work in many different ways.

However, all of them cause the muscles to relax and reduce tightness and stiffness, which helps to alleviate pain and discomfort.

Several muscle relaxers, including baclofen, cyclobenzaprine, carisoprodol, metaxalone (Skelaxin), diazepam, orphenadrine (Norflex), tizanidine (Zanaflex), and methocarbamol (Robaxin) take action on the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.

These antispasmodic muscle relaxers are also effective in treating anxiety and insomnia in addition to muscle spasms and pain, as they have a relaxing effect on the entire body.

Other muscle relaxers, including dantrolene, work directly on the muscle.

Dantrolene is associated with fewer side effects than other muscle relaxants because it works on the muscles themselves rather than the central nervous system.

Therefore, it is more appropriate for patients who need to take muscle relaxers for an extended period of time due to the nature of their condition. 

Why Do People Take Muscle Relaxers?

There are many different reasons why patients take muscle relaxants, but the most common reasons are to treat muscle spasms resulting from injury or a medical condition affecting the central nervous system, including:

There are also several conditions that are not related to muscle spasms or tightening that may cause people to take muscle relaxers.

Each of these conditions is impacted by the central nervous system, so muscle relaxers that work on the central nervous system can help alleviate their symptoms. Other conditions for which people take muscle relaxers include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Pre-surgery anxiety or discomfort

Are There Any Side Effects Associated With Muscle Relaxers?

Like many medications, there are side effects associated with the use of muscle relaxers.

Regardless of how they work, the majority of muscle relaxers list muscle weakness as a possible side effect.

While each medication will have its own individual list of side effects, some side effects that are common with most muscle relaxers include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Decreased blood pressure

Not all patients will experience side effects while taking muscle relaxers, and your doctor will consider your age, condition, and medical history when providing your prescription in order to minimize your risk of side effects.

Patients with heart, liver, or kidney problems should avoid taking muscle relaxers if possible.

Are There Any Warnings Associated With Muscle Relaxers?

Unfortunately, skeletal muscle relaxants do have FDA warnings associated with their use due to the potential for abuse and addiction.

The medications produce a relaxed feeling that some patients become dependent on over time; long-term use of muscle relaxers is associated with increased risk of physical dependence and increased tolerance.

Muscle relaxers and other prescription medications can be abused by patients who take them without a medical need or who take them in combination with alcohol or illicit drugs to amplify their effects.

Therefore, muscle relaxers are generally only prescribed at a low dose for a period of two to three weeks and are not meant to be taken long term.

Soma, one of the most commonly prescribed brand name muscle relaxers, is also one of the most commonly diverted drugs in the United States, meaning it is redistributed for illicit use.

Flexeril is another commonly abused muscle relaxer. Even though muscle relaxers are prescription drugs, their abuse is dangerous and can lead to overdose, which includes the following symptoms:

  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Hallucinations
  • Shock
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Muscle relaxers also should not be mixed with alcohol, as the combination can amplify the effects on the central nervous system.

Common side effects associated with the combination of alcohol and muscle relaxers include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Extreme lightheadedness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Memory problems
  • Increased risk of overdose
  • Urine retention
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fainting
  • Liver damage

Patients who find themselves addicted to muscle relaxers may experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to wean themselves off of the medication.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with muscle relaxers vary depending on the specific medication abused, but often include symptoms like nausea, drowsiness, headache, malaise, and discomfort.

Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe depending on the type of medication abused, with Flexeril generally causing less severe symptoms and Soma causing more severe symptoms, including seizures and hallucinations.

Patients attempting to wean off of Soma should do so at an inpatient detox program and should not attempt to do so at home, while Flexeril can often be detoxed from at home as long as no other drugs or alcohol are involved.

The best way to prevent abuse of muscle relaxers is to take them only as a second or third line of treatment for muscle pain after treatments like physical therapy and to take them only when truly needed

References, Sources and Studies:




medically reviewed and fact checked
Sesame Care

Find the best price for great doctors and specialists

  • Thousands of doctors and specialists
  • $13,000,000+ saved by patients
  • 95% patient satisfaction
  • 4.3 on TrustPilot

Popular Destinations



Telehealth Reviews


Pharmacist Membership

About Us

Pharmacy Near Me

Recent Articles

Aleve vs Ibuprofen: What’s the difference?

We all have muscle aches and pains every once in a while, and sometimes, the pain gets to be enough that we need to take medication to help alleviate the symptoms. Over the counter medications like Aleve and Ibuprofen offer pain relief from pain associated with common ailments like arthritis, headache, toothache, acute injury, and gout and they are affordable and accessible. Many people assume that because these medications are available over the over the counter (otc), they’re safe and without risk, but recent studies have found that about 15 percent of adults take greater quantities of ibuprofen, Aleve, and other anti-inflammatory drugs than is recommended for daily use. Aleve and ibuprofen perform similar functions, but there are also significant differences between the two medications.

Read More »

How Long Does Flexeril Stay in Your System?

Muscle relaxers are commonly prescribed in these situations in order to help patients go about their daily activities and gently exercise the injured area in order to treat the source of the pain. One of the most popular muscle relaxers, Flexeril, can be taken for up to three weeks in the event of injury to the musculoskeletal system, but how long does Flexeril stay in your system?

Read More »

Share On:

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

Inner Knee Pain: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

The inner knee is a joint where the femur meets the tibia. It's one of many joints in your body, and can sometimes be

Aleve vs Ibuprofen: What’s the difference?

We all have muscle aches and pains every once in a while, and sometimes, the pain gets to be enough that we need to

Questions About Pain on the Left Side of My Body

Do you have pain on the left side of your body? You're not alone. The left side of your body is home to many

Cove Migraine Review: Are These Medications Effective?

Cove is a telemedicine company that provides personalized treatment for migraine sufferers, but are their medications effective? We provide you with an honest review.

Meloxicam Side Effects: What Are They?

People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis deal with daily, chronic pain that can have a serious impact on their quality of life.

Aleve vs Advil: What are the Main Differences?

Although Aleve and Advil are available over the counter, they’re not without risk. Recent studies have concluded that approximately 15 percent of American adults

To Take or Not to Take: Osteoarthritis Supplements

Are you one of the over 30 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis? Or maybe you know someone who is? Do you or someone you

Meloxicam Side Effects: What Are They?

People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis deal with daily, chronic pain that can have a serious impact on their quality of life.

What’s The Best Over the Counter Migraine Medicine?

We’re revealing the best over the counter migraine medicine to help you in your selection. Read on for more details.

Narcan: The Nasal Spray that Could Save Your Life

Opioids (sometimes called narcotics) are a type of medicine that decreases the feelings of pain. Healthcare providers may prescribe opioids to lessen pain from:

New Treatment Option for Acute Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches affect 12% of the population in the United States. During an acute migraine headache, symptoms can get severe enough where it becomes

Ocular Migraine Treatment: What You Need to Know

If you’ve experienced the pain of a migraine, you know how strainful it can be. Find out the best ocular migraine treatment and more

To Take or Not to Take: Osteoarthritis and Supplements

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, sometimes referred to as “wear and tear” and affects over 30 million Americans. There are a variety of

What Is Plantar Fasciitis? The Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment Options

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot injury that can cause pain and discomfort. The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs

Is Hydrocodone an Opiate?

Hydrocodone is an opiate that presents a high risk of abuse and addiction. Commonly prescribed for the short term management of pain, hydrocodone can

Joint Pain Medication: Common Side Effects

Being aware of the potential side effects associated with joint pain medication can help you decide which drug is right for you. Learn more

Hydrocodone vs Oxycodone: The Difference Explained

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are prescription opioid painkillers that are effective medications to treat moderate to severe pain. Oxycodone is more likely to cause side

Gabapentin Side Effects: What Are They?

Gabapentin is in a class all its own when it comes to medications – literally. The medication belongs to a class of drugs named

What are Rebound Headaches?

Rebound headaches, also called medication overuse headaches, can occur if you take certain pain relievers above their recommended dosages. Learn about what causes rebound

What’s The Best Over the Counter Migraine Medicine?

We’re revealing the best over the counter migraine medicine to help you in your selection. Read on for more details.