Exploring Anticonvulsants, Muscle Relaxants, and Corticosteroids
In part one of this series of Options for Pain Relief, I wrote about NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and antidepressants. This post focuses on anticonvulsants (anti-seizure) medications, muscle relaxants, and corticosteroids. Because there is so much information regarding Opioids and Marijuana for treatment of chronic pain, I’ve decided to write two separate posts for each of these. The next post (Part 3) will be devoted to the pros, cons, and debates of Opioid use for chronic pain treatment.
Now, let’s discover how anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants, and corticosteroids are used as a relief for chronic pain.
ANTICONVULSANT (antiseizure) MEDICATIONS
Anticonvulsant medications are used for specific types of nerve pain (burning, shooting pain) and must be taken on a daily basis or as prescribed by your physician. Whether pain is experienced or not, this medication must be taken as directed for maximum results. This medication is not intended for an “as needed” dosage.
Some common side effects include sleepiness (which may improve the longer the medication is taken) and weight gain (one reason I stopped taking this medication), dizziness, and fatigue. If you suffer from kidney stones or glaucoma tell your doctor as anticonvulsants are not recommended for patients with these conditions. Newer anticonvulsant drugs do not require liver monitoring, however, if you have a kidney disease use caution when taking this medication.
Anticonvulsants are another example of a medication that is developed to treat one condition and is used to relieve the symptoms of an entirely different condition. Dual purpose anticonvulsants help patients manage their seizures while also helping chronic pain patients manage their pain. Studies provide conflicting views of treating chronic pain with anticonvulsants. Although there are studies advising other forms of treatment for chronic pain, other studies indicate that anticonvulsants are vital for managing chronic pain because of fewer long-term side effects.
Listed below are frequently prescribed Generic forms of anticonvulsants: (the brand name is noted in parenthesis)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)*
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol)*
- Pregabalin (Lyrica)
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Topiramate (Topomax)
*FDA approved the medication for treating chronic pain.
Many patients experience lower pain levels with anticonvulsants. Your doctor may use the trial-and-error method to find the drug form and dosage that treats your pain. Be sure to inform your doctor of side effects other than those he advised when taking anticonvulsants. Read the paperwork accompanying your medicine thoroughly, making note of any restrictions (no alcohol, etc.) while taking this medication.
In the United States alone, an estimate of $100 Billion is spent annually for chronic pain management. And among the numerous forms of chronic pain, one form is the Musculoskeletal pain. Its symptoms and discomfort are felt within the muscles, nerves, tendons, bones, and ligaments of the body. These symptoms may develop as an acute onset (rapidly and grow to severity quickly) or as chronic pain (slowly and long-lasting.) Like most chronic pain, Musculoskeletal pain that continues for three months or more is considered ‘chronic.’
Chronic musculoskeletal pain may be widespread or centered in one area of the body. Some of the more common parts of the body include lower back pain, myalgia (muscle pain), tendinitis, and stress fractures. The causes are as varied as the types of musculoskeletal pains – injury, overuse, poor posture, arthritis, and/or prolonged confinement.
To effectively treat the symptoms of pain and discomfort muscle relaxant medications may be used. Unlike their name, muscle relaxant drugs don’t act on the muscles themselves. Instead, the impact of the effects center on the central and peripheral nervous system.
Reported symptoms treated with muscle relaxants include:
- Bone Pain (dull, deep, penetrating pain)
- Connective Tissue Pain (felt within tendons or ligaments)
- Muscle Pain (less intense than Bone Pain, but causes range from injury to tumor)
- Tunnel Syndromes (result from compression of nerves)
- Joint Pain (aching, stiffness, swelling or burning within a joint(s))
- Fibromyalgia (ligament, tendon, muscle pain)
The most commonly prescribed muscle relaxant medications are Baclofen, Carisoprodol, and Chlorzoxazone. All three work on the central nervous system, but each is prescribed for different pain problems. Baclofen is prescribed for muscle spasticity which occurs as a result of multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Carisoprodol is more commonly prescribed for the treatment of several musculoskeletal system disorders that cause acute pain. And Chlorzoxazone is typically prescribed for lower back pain and muscle spasms. Only one of these medications have received rare reports of acute liver injury. Chlorzoxazone use may be associated with liver injury, but, again these reports are rare.
However, two muscle relaxant drugs have been associated with causing acute liver damage (severe to fatal.) If you are prescribed either of these drugs, speak to your doctor extensively regarding this warning. The drugs are:
Dantroline (for chronic spasticity) and
Tizanidine (for acute symptoms of muscle spasms or chronic muscle spasticity)
The normal side effects of dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches accompany most of the drugs mentioned above. As with all medications prescribed or discussed in your doctor’s office, research the side effects online if your doctor fails to discuss them with you. It is your right to know exactly what you are putting into your body and the effects that may accompany those medications.
Administered in the form of a pill, a topical cream, or an injection, another class of anti-inflammatory drugs is Corticosteroids. As a stronger drug used to control severe swelling and pain, corticosteroids are prescribed for specific pain conditions. They were created to act like the natural steroids in your body. By altering the immune system, they control inflammation that causes decreased movement and pain in most joints and muscle tissues.
These drugs are periodically administered to treat cases of acute pain or flare-ups. Another common treatment is chronic swelling in the tendons and joints. To reduce pain and escalate joint and tissues flexibility, corticosteroids are used for the following conditions:
Common types of corticosteroids:
And the possible side effects include:
-Nausea or vomiting
-Changes in the skin (acne, redness, increased hair growth)
-Mental changes (anxiety, mood swings, depression
Again, let your doctor know of any extreme side effects including hands, feet, or face swelling, eye pain or other visual changes, a rash that will not disappear, new muscle pain/weakness, and/or tarry bowel movements.
Corticosteroids do work but injections are limited to a maximum number every six to twelve months each year. Pills are given in large increments and dwindle down to nothing in a matter of six to ten days. And topical creams are usually applied as needed or per your doctor’s orders. Be sure to talk extensively with your healthcare physician to understand the side effects and the likelihood you’ll receive pain relief with corticosteroids.
Next week I will post Part 3 of Options for Pain Relief – Opioids. Thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy reading this information!