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Top 8 Muscle Relaxants for Rib Fractures

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 20, 2024

Rib fractures can be incredibly painful and debilitating, making it difficult to breathe, move, or even sleep. In this article, we will explore one of the treatment options for rib fractures: muscle relaxants. We will delve into the different types of muscle relaxants, how they work, and finally, provide a list of the top 8 muscle relaxants for a rib fracture.

We will also discuss how rib fractures are diagnosed and the various treatment options available. If you or a loved one is dealing with the pain of a rib fracture, this article is a must-read.

What Are Muscle Relaxants?

Muscle relaxants are a type of medication often prescribed to relieve muscle spasms, tension, and discomfort. They are typically only available by prescription.

These medications work by targeting the central nervous system to reduce muscle spasms and increase mobility. They can help reduce the pain that muscle spasms can cause.

There are two main types of muscle relaxants: antispasmodic agents and neuromuscular blocking agents. It's essential to use these medications as directed by your doctor because some may come with potential side effects and interactions with other medications.

What Are the Top 8 Muscle Relaxants for a Rib Fracture?

The top 8 muscle relaxants commonly recommended include cyclobenzaprine, methocarbamol, baclofen, tizanidine, carisoprodol, diazepam, metaxalone, and orphenadrine.

Muscle relaxants are helpful in managing pain and discomfort from muscle tension that may occur along with rib fractures. They can help in improving comfort and quality of life during the healing period. Combining these medications with physical therapy and rest may help with your recovery from a rib fracture.

Cyclobenzaprine is a commonly prescribed muscle relaxant. It works by blocking nerve impulses (or pain sensations) that are sent to your brain. That calms spasms triggered by your central nervous system. Cylobenzaprine is in a class of drugs that are related to tricyclic antidepressants, which may explain some of its side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth. Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice when taking cyclobenzaprine to avoid dependency and withdrawal symptoms.

Methocarbamol is a commonly used muscle relaxant. It slows down the nervous system activity, relaxing muscles and reducing bodywide tension. Side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea.

Baclofen targets so-called GABA receptors in the spinal cord, reducing muscle spasms and pain. Baclofen is also used to manage symptoms of spastic movement disorders, such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, because of its effectiveness in relieving muscle spasms.

Tizanidine inhibits nerve signals that cause muscle tightening, and aids in muscle relaxation and discomfort. Tizanidine may lower your blood pressure, so speak to your healthcare provider before using it if you have preexisting low blood pressure.

Carisoprodol provides quick relief by disrupting the neural communication within the brain and spinal cord that controls muscle rigidity. Its fast action makes it helpful in managing severe pain, but it has potential for abuse and dependency.

Diazepam, a benzodiazepine, is used for its combined action as a muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety medication. It enhances the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits nerve transmissions in the brain, promoting relaxation and pain relief. Diazepam is used to treat both muscle spasms and anxiety disorders. However, its potential for dependence and withdrawal symptoms requires careful management and short-term use.

Metaxalone suppresses central nervous system activity to relieve muscle stiffness and enhance relaxation. Metaxalone tends to be a safer option if you’re taking other medications.

Orphenadrine inhibits nerve impulses that trigger muscle contractions. This helps reduce spasms and muscle tightness. Orphenadrine is also used to treat muscle tightness in Parkinson’s disease. Despite its effectiveness, it has a higher risk of side effects such as dry mouth and urinary retention.

What Is a Rib Fracture?

Rib fracture refers to a crack or break in one or more of the bones in the rib cage, leading to pain and restricted movement.

Rib fractures can occur from a fall, motor vehicle accident, or direct impact to the chest. The pain is often worsened by breathing, coughing, or laughing. If you have a fractured rib, you may also have tenderness and swelling in the affected area.

It’s important to see a healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and to make sure you aren’t at risk for complications, like a punctured lung. If left untreated, rib fractures can lead to problems like pneumonia or lung collapse due to limited chest expansion.

How Do Rib Fractures Occur?

Rib fractures commonly occur from traumatic incidents such as a direct blow to the chest. They can also be caused by intense coughing, repetitive motion, or strenuous exercise. These activities can put excessive strain on the ribs. Additionally, conditions like osteoporosis or certain types of cancer can weaken the bones, making them more vulnerable to fractures even with minor trauma.

It's crucial to be aware of these potential causes and take preventative measures, especially for people involved in high-impact sports or physically demanding occupations.

What Are the Symptoms of a Rib Fracture?

The symptoms of a rib fracture include sharp pain, difficulty breathing, and sometimes painful spasms or tension in nearby muscles.

Pain from a rib fracture can intensify during movements such as coughing, sneezing, or even laughing. You may also be tender in the area of the injury.

How Is a Rib Fracture Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a rib fracture typically includes a physical exam and imaging tests. Your healthcare provider will assess for tenderness, swelling, or deformity in the chest area.

Following this, imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans are often recommended to confirm the presence of a rib fracture and assess its severity. Consultation with a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon or a pulmonologist, may also be recommended to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored based on your injury.

What Are the Treatment Options for a Rib Fracture?

The treatment options for a rib fracture may include rest, pain management, physical therapy, and possibly surgery.

Pain management may involve over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription painkillers. You may need physical therapy or breathing exercises to help restore lung function and prevent complications like pneumonia.

In some cases, surgery may be needed to repair a rib and stabilize the fracture to promote proper healing.

Rest and Ice

Rest allows the injured rib to stabilize and heal without straining or risking re-injuring the area. It’s often recommended to avoid activities that may strain the ribcage.

Applying ice can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Ice packs should be applied for no more than 20 minutes at a time and should not directly come in contact with your skin.

Together, rest and ice can significantly contribute to a successful healing for rib fractures.

Pain Medications

The use of over-the-counter pain medications can help reduce inflammation and pain caused by a rib fracture. OTC pain relievers include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil or Motrin. However, it's important to consider potential side effects such as drowsiness, constipation, or gastric irritation. For severe pain, doctors may prescribe opioid analgesics, but these should be taken as briefly as possible because of their high risk of addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do muscle relaxants help with a rib fracture?

Muscle relaxants may help with a rib fracture by reducing muscle spasms and tension in the affected area. This can help alleviate pain and discomfort and promote healing.

Are muscle relaxants addictive?

Some muscle relaxants have a potential for addiction, such as carisoprodol and diazepam. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and duration of use to avoid dependence on these medications.

Can I drive or operate heavy machinery while taking muscle relaxants?

It is not recommended to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking muscle relaxants, as they can cause drowsiness and impair your ability to perform these tasks safely.

Are there any side effects of muscle relaxants for a rib fracture?

Some common side effects of muscle relaxants include drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, and blurred vision. In rare cases, they may also cause allergic reactions or more serious side effects. It is important to discuss any potential side effects with your doctor before taking muscle relaxants.