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What is a Skeletal Muscle Relaxant?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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A skeletal muscle relaxant is a medication that acts on the skeletal muscles to force them to relax, easing spasms, contractions, and pain. These powerful drugs are available for the treatment of a variety of conditions involving the skeletal muscles, usually by prescription only to make sure a patient uses them appropriately. Over time, people can build up a tolerance to medication, and it is important to communicate regularly with a doctor to make sure the dosage remains appropriate, and to adjust the dose or change medications when it becomes necessary.

These medications can work in two different ways. Spasmolytics work by inhibiting nerve signals to reduce the intensity and frequency of muscle contractions. Neuromuscular blockers act at the interface between nerves and muscles to prevent signals from passing at all, and some are capable of causing paralysis because they are so strong. A doctor can decide on the best medication for a patient on the basis of the issue at hand; for something like orthopedic surgery, for instance, people may use neuromuscular blockers to completely relax the skeletal muscles so they can work safely.

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Patients can take a skeletal muscle relaxant to treat spasticity, muscle pain, and similar issues. A doctor may prescribe the medication to treat a time limited condition, or as part of an overall treatment plan for a patient, in which case the drug will be necessary in the long term. For something like back pain, for instance, the doctor might recommend rest to allow the muscles to recover, and a short-term skeletal muscle relaxant to prevent contractions, keep the patient comfortable, and minimize further damage to the muscle while the patient heals.

Sedation is one of the most common side effects of these drugs, and it can become dangerous. There is a risk of developing heart failure by taking an overdose, as illustrated by the fact that indigenous people in South America once used skeletal muscle relaxants to paralyze prey animals and enemies and kill them. Patients may also develop tolerances to the drugs, requiring higher doses and putting them more at risk of side effects, which can vary, depending on the medication, but may involve gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, and lethargy.

When a doctor prescribes a skeletal muscle relaxant, it is important for the patient to get information about the dosage, paying particular attention to how much to take and at what intervals. Taking medication too frequently can be dangerous. Patients should also avoid sharing prescriptions, as another person may not tolerate the skeletal muscle relaxant as well or could take a dangerously high dosage.

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