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What’s the best way to relieve aching muscles?(2)

For most people with common muscle spasm conditions, such as back or neck aches, the answer isn’t a muscle relaxant pill. Our  latest Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug report on muscle relaxants found that while those drugs might ease the pain of aching muscles and are commonly prescribed (they racked up more than $1 billion in U.S. sales in 2008), the relief they bring could come at the price of potentially dangerous side effects, such as addiction and sedation, which increases the risk of car crashes, falls, and other accidents.

People with muscle aches, including back or neck pain, headaches, and fibromyalgia, should first try non-drug therapies, such as heating pads, massage, and yoga. Acupuncture, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga may help some people, too. In fact, in a recent Consumer Reports National Research Center, chiropractic care, for example, was rated by survey respondents as the most effective treatment for lower back pain.

If those don’t help, our Best Buy analysis found that common over-the-counter pain relievers work just as well as muscle relaxants. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and generic), and naproxen (Aleve or generic). But if they don’t bring you relief, or you can’t take them for health reasons, you could consider a muscle relaxant.

In those cases, we recommend generic cyclobenzaprine. It is supported by the strongest amount of evidence. Also, it is available in a generic form that costs $8 to $15 for a seven-day course, which makes it one of the least expensive generic muscle relaxants and significantly less costly than brand-name ones that can run more than $100. 

We recommend avoiding carisoprodol (Soma) because it is associated with a high risk of abuse and addiction potential not seen with other skeletal muscle relaxants.  Despite these risks, it is a widely used medicine and one of the top-selling muscle relaxants.

Where muscle relaxants could be a good first option is the treatment of muscle spasticity associated with disorders such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or stroke. Due to the seriousness of these conditions, the benefits of the drugs may be worth the potential risks and consequently, the medicines are considered first line therapy for spasticity triggered by these disorders.

If you need a muscle relaxant for spasticity, our Best Buy pick is generic baclofen. This drug costs between $27 and $60 for a 30-day supply, so you could save a significant amount of money over some of the more expensive brand-name muscle relaxants, which can cost from $200 to up to $486 a month.

In addition to sedation, the most common side effects associated with muscle relaxants include weakness or fatigue, dizziness, and dry mouth.

Interested in more information? Read the full analysis:  Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs Report on Muscle Relaxants. 


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