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Unlike cardiac and smooth muscles, which are organ muscles, skeletal muscles are attached to your skeleton and are the muscles that you primarily train during workouts. As the American Academy of Family Physicians, or AAFP, notes, muscle relaxers, also called skeletal muscle relaxants, are used to treat various musculoskeletal issues, including those caused by workouts and other physical activity. Muscle relaxers are generally meant to address acute conditions, which are common after workouts.

How They Work

While muscle relaxers are sometimes used for chronic health problems, the acute conditions that muscle relaxers are used to treat include temporary pain and stiffness. When you take muscle relaxers, they work on your muscle fibers and/or nerves to reduce the pain and relieve tension in the tight muscles. According to the AAFP, the goal is to improve muscle functionality so that you can resume your activities. Muscle relaxers come in the form of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications and natural treatment options.

Prescription Medications

Prescription muscle relaxers are divided into two categories: antispastic and antispasmodic. Antispastic medications are not designed for skeletal muscle conditions caused by exercise, but instead for treating chronic diseases, such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Prescription antispasmodic medications are appropriate to take after a workout. They include options such as cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), methocarbamol (Robaxin) and carisoprodol (Soma). However, the AAFP advises that antispasmodic medications should not be the primary drugs of choice. Over-the-counter medications are the recommended first line of treatment. This is because, according to the AAFP and Consumer, studies have shown that antispasmodic medications are generally no more effective than over-the-counter drugs, and antispasmodic medications tend to have more side effects.

Over-the-Counter Medications

For post-workout muscle discomfort, Consumer cites over-the-counter treatment options. These include pain relievers such as ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin, generic brands), acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol and generics), aspirin (e.g. Bayer and generics), and naproxen (e.g., Aleve and generics). Heat gels are also an option. While over-the-counter medications do have side effects, most are not linked to dangerous complications such as addiction and heavy sedation, as can be the case with many prescription medications.

Natural Treatment Options

Herbal treatments, aromatherapy and hands-on therapeutic activities are among various natural treatment options. For example, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that chamomile is an herb used to treat a range of conditions, including muscle spasms and nerve tension. Chamomile is available in teas, ointments, creams, extracts and pills. Also, according to Native Remedies, essential oils of ginger, peppermint and pine can be used for aromatherapy to treat musculoskeletal conditions. Additionally, muscle discomfort may also be reduced through massage and therapeutic muscle stretching. While these options are alternatives to conventional medications, they also have potential side effects and drug interaction complications. Consult your physician before taking any prescription or nonprescription option that serves as a muscle relaxer.