Are Muscle Relaxants Helpful in Treating Headaches and Jaw Pain

image of a woman' face with an inquisitive look
Muscle relaxants are not useful in treating chronic headaches or jaw pain

Facial pain, jaw pain, and headaches altogether impact more than 25% of the population. And some of these may be stemming from the overuse or misuse of the muscles in the head and neck region.
To aid in eliminating the pain in what seems to be muscle pain, some doctors prescribe a “muscle relaxant” such as Flexeril (Cyclobenzaprine). But is that really helpful? Let’s find out.

What Are Muscle Relaxants

Muscle relaxants are medications aimed at reducing the pain caused by muscle spasms. Spasms are involuntary, sudden contractions or convulsions that can affect one or multiple muscles at a time. When a muscle goes into a spasm, it quickly causes a chemical imbalance within itself setting the “pain” pathway into motion. As part of the pain pathway, pain signals are generated which then travel along sensory nerves to the central nervous system (CNS).

The “numbing” effect produced by muscle relaxants is due to their action on the sensory nerve pathway. They essentially block the transmission of pain signals to the CNS. They do not alter muscular activity.

Why Muscle Relaxants Don’t Work for Facial Pain

Cyclobenzaprine medications such as Flexeril are intended for the treatment of “acute” trauma or pain due to muscle spasms. Chronic jaw pain, headaches, or facial pain are almost never due to muscle spasms. That is why muscle relaxants don’t work for the treatment or management of jaw pain.

What is worse is that these medications increase the risk for serotonin toxicity, when used alone or in combination with certain other medications like anti-depressants. Other undesirable side effects include drowsiness, constipation, and headaches (how ironic).

While muscle relaxants may be useful for short-term use in the management of acute muscle spasms, they are not helpful for the treatment of chronic jaw pain. For further information on treatment for headaches and jaw pain, visit our website dedicated to the treatment of head and neck pain.