Background/objective: Guaifenesin, an over-the-counter (OTC) expectorant, has exhibited muscle relaxant effects preclinically and clinically. This proof-of-principle study explored whether OTC doses of guaifenesin can provide relief from acute upper back, neck, or shoulder muscle spasm and pain.
Methods: This multicenter, placebo-controlled, repeat-dose, parallel study randomly assigned adults experiencing acute pain and muscle spasm in their upper back, neck, or shoulder to guaifenesin 600 or 1200 mg or matched placebo twice daily (BID) in a 2:2:1:1 ratio for 7 days. The primary end point was the change from baseline in muscle spasm relief, measured using an 11-point numeric rating scale (0=not present to 10=unbearable) recorded twice daily and averaged over the 7-day treatment period. Analyses were performed using a linear mixed model that included treatment as a fixed effect and site as a random effect.
Results: A total of 77 subjects were included in the 4 treatment groups. Least squares mean muscle spasm score over 7 days was 1.77 with guaifenesin 1200 mg, 1.42 with its matched placebo, 1.53 with guaifenesin 600 mg, and 1.74 with its matched placebo. Treatment with guaifenesin 1200 mg BID provided 25% greater reduction in mean muscle spasm over its matched placebo and 16% greater reduction than guaifenesin 600 mg BID. These differences were not statistically significant. Based on comparisons of absolute mean values, a consistent directional change in effect was observed, suggesting some benefit from placebo to lower-to-upper doses of guaifenesin with regard to muscle spasm, tension, pain, discomfort, and relaxation. No severe or serious adverse events were reported.
Conclusion: Results suggest the potential for OTC dose of guaifenesin 1200 mg BID to provide symptomatic relief of upper back musculoskeletal pain and spasm. Confirmation of this preliminary result in a larger, adequately powered study is needed.
Keywords: Vernon–Mior disability assessment; guaifenesin; muscle relaxation; muscle spasm; upper back pain.