Between 2005 and 2016, office visits for continued muscle-relaxant drug therapy increased from 8.5 million to 24.7 million while the number of new muscle-relaxant prescriptions remained stable at approximately 6 million annually, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
Researchers found that 67 percent of continued muscle-relaxant visits in 2016 also noted therapy with an opioid. The researchers believe the spike in muscle-relaxant prescriptions can be attributed to clinicians prescribing muscle relaxants as an alternative to opioids for long-term pain management.
Co-prescribing muscle relaxants and opioids can cause serious side effects, including slowed or difficult breathing and death, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Researchers also discovered older adults accounted for 22.2 percent of all muscle relaxant office visits, while older adults make up about 14.5 percent of the U.S. population.
Muscle relaxants can have serious side effects for older adults, including falls and overdose. The American Geriatrics Society and other organizations warn that older adults should avoid muscle relaxants.
For the rest of the population, it is recommended muscle relaxants be used for no more than three weeks.
Muscle relaxants might not be any more effective in managing pain than Tylenol or Advil, according to Charles Leonard, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.