Skeletal muscle relaxants are a heterogeneous group of medications used to treat two different types of underlying conditions: spasticity from upper motor neuron syndromes and muscular pain or spasms from peripheral musculoskeletal conditions. Although widely used for these indications, there appear to be gaps in our understanding of the comparative efficacy and safety of different skeletal muscle relaxants. This systematic review summarizes and assesses the evidence for the comparative efficacy and safety of skeletal muscle relaxants for spasticity and musculoskeletal conditions. Randomized trials (for comparative efficacy and adverse events) and observational studies (for adverse events only) that included oral medications classified as skeletal muscle relaxants by the FDA were sought using electronic databases, reference lists, and pharmaceutical company submissions. Searches were performed through January 2003. The validity of each included study was assessed using a data abstraction form and predefined criteria. An overall grade was allocated for the body of evidence for each key question. A total of 101 randomized trials were included in this review. No randomized trial was rated good quality, and there was little evidence of rigorous adverse event assessment in included trials or observational studies. There is fair evidence that baclofen, tizanidine, and dantrolene are effective compared to placebo in patients with spasticity (primarily multiple sclerosis). There is fair evidence that baclofen and tizanidine are roughly equivalent for efficacy in patients with spasticity, but insufficient evidence to determine the efficacy of dantrolene compared to baclofen or tizanidine. There is fair evidence that although the overall rate of adverse effects between tizanidine and baclofen is similar, tizanidine is associated with more dry mouth and baclofen with more weakness. There is fair evidence that cyclobenzaprine, carisoprodol, orphenadrine, and tizanidine are effective compared to placebo in patients with musculoskeletal conditions (primarily acute back or neck pain). Cyclobenzaprine has been evaluated in the most clinical trials and has consistently been found to be effective. There is very limited or inconsistent data regarding the effectiveness of metaxalone, methocarbamol, chlorzoxazone, baclofen, or dantrolene compared to placebo in patients with musculoskeletal conditions. There is insufficient evidence to determine the relative efficacy or safety of cyclobenzaprine, carisoprodol, orphenadrine, tizanidine, metaxalone, methocarbamol, and chlorzoxazone. Dantrolene, and to a lesser degree chlorzoxazone, have been associated with rare serious hepatotoxicity.
Copyright 2004 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee