How to Tell One Robax from Another

I have a sore back. It’s something that hits me once or twice a year due to a problem with lower back spasms. This time it’s been going on for more than a week, which is unusual. Today I was almost completely incapacitated, which is very unusual given that two days ago I thought I was almost over it.

The go-to drugs for back pain are the collection of Robax drugs. Those are the ones you see advertised on TV with the wooden dolls dancing around after they get a pin taken out of their backs. Well, they help me a bit, but not much. Even after taking a pile of Robax pills I still feel like there’s a dagger in my kidney.

There’s a reason for this sad lament: a sadder lament and a bit of information that you might find helpful.

Here in Canada we have not caught up to the U.S. when it comes to over-the-counter drug packaging. Go do a Rite-Aid or a Duane Reade in the U.S. and check out the pills. The packages very clearly state what are the active ingredients, and even more clearly state the dosages. It’s writ large and clear, in a design that has clearly been vetted by UX designers. Bravo!

U.S. package. Easy to read!

But go into a Pharmaprix or a Shoppers Drug Mart or a Jean Coutu in Canada and check out the same pills. Yes, the information is there, but it’s written in 4 point Helvetica in a block of text with no line breaks or spacing or any other cues to help you quickly make sense of it. Plus it’s in two languages, and given how unreadable it is, it’s like two foreign languages.

Canadian packaging. WTF?

So when I went to a Jean Coutu last week to get some back relief, I was faced with the same problem I’m always faced with. A wall of pills that all look the same and have the same basic names but it takes a good amount of study and ideally an internet connection to sort out which is the one you should buy. This time, however, I finally managed to figure out the difference between the three different types of Robax back pills. And now for your reading pleasure I preset that information to you, in plain English, the way it should – but isn’t – on the package.

Note: the one thing they all have in common is methocarbamol, a muscle relaxant. The difference lies in what pain reliever they’re married to, if any.

  • Robaxin: methocarbamol only.
  • Robaxacet: methocarbamol and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Robaxisal: methocarbamol and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, or Aspirin).
  • Robax Platinum: methocarbamol and ibuprofin (Advil).

That’s it. It’s that simple, although some are also available in “extra strength” dosages. In that case it’s only the pain reliever that’s “extra strength,” not the methocarbamol.

But wait! For some reason, the standard dosage of methocarbamol is 400 mg. That is, unless you’re buying straight Robaxin, in which case it’s 500 mg. Or Robax Platinum, which has the standard dosage of ipuprophen (200 mg) and 500 mg of methocarbamol. There is no reasonable explanation for this difference.

However, you should know that if you already have ASA, acetaminophen, or ibuprofin in your medicine chest, you need only buy Robaxin. Because there is absolutely no difference between taking one Robaxin plus one Advil, and taking one Robax Platinum. Similarly, the only difference between one Robaxin plus a Tylenol and one Robaxacet is you get a bit more methocarbamol in the former case.

In my case, I find Robaxin with acetaminophen (or Robaxacet) does the trick for me, at least for muscle pain. If I take Robaxisal, I need to supplement it with Tylenol, which means I’m taking ASA that I don’t need. We have tons of acetaminophen already, so what I really should be buying is straight-up Robaxin and just take them with a couple of Tylenols.

This next bit should be a separate blog post…

While I’m on the topic of drug dosages, you should familiarize yourself with a few standard dosages. For example, the standard acetaminophen (Tylenol) pill contains 325 mg of active ingredient. The “Extra Strength” ones contain 500 mg. If you take three regular ones you’re getting 975 mg, which is pretty much exactly the same as the 1000 mg you’d get if you took two Extra Strength ones.

You might think all of this is really obvious, but I’m shocked at how often I meet people who have no idea what’s in the pills they take, and who believe silly things like “regular Tylenols don’t help me at all! Only the Extra Strength ones work!”

No. Read the labels. Hopefully we’ll learn from our neighbours to the south and the labels will one day be clearer.

Now go take a pill.

4 thoughts on “How to Tell One Robax from Another

  1. One word for you re: back pain…chiropractor! Seriously. This is my weak area as well. The chiro has brought me back from the brink of total incapacitation several times. Especially after things like tire changes ;).

  2. Ouch! Hope you feel better soon. And you’re right about the drugs. I can’t take NSAIDs, so for headaches my doc recommended acetaminophen (Tylenol) with a little bit of codeine. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that doses of more than 1000 mg of acetaminophen are damaging to the liver; you really have to read the package and know how much you’re taking per dose and per day. In the US you can’t buy codeine over the counter. In Canada you can, but not without the acetaminophen and – get this – caffeine added, unless you have a prescription.

    Anyway, keep moving. Once the initial inflammation goes down, everything I’ve read says it’s best to return to activity as much as you can, as soon as you can. We both have back pain sometimes, and it’s — a pain!!

  3. One word: Dilaudid. Another word: Dilaudid. Two more words: Two Dilaudids.

  4. Being by profession a cube dweller, I have, over the years, developed a set of sloppy back muscles which act up whenever I start anything they deem too physical. One day, while rolling around in bed trying to maneuver getting up with the least amount of muscle spasming, I rolled over a little foot massage that I had bought on a whim and never used. I maneuvered it under my glutinous maximus and rolled until the balls found the offending sucker and I didn’t stop rolling until the muscle started to relax. Note that I am careful NEVER to roll the massager on or even near my spine. I try to walk as much as I can (public transportation, walk to bus, walk to work, walk at lunch, etc.) and, finally, I get that upper glutic stinker with the foot massage every time that little traitor even thinks of acting out!

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