Muscle Stiffness in Dialysis Patients - Tips to Prevent and Overcome

This blog post was made by Kamal Shah on June 15, 2023.
Muscle Stiffness in Dialysis Patients - Tips to Prevent and Overcome

This post was reprinted with permission, and originally ran on March 26, 23.

I have been on dialysis for close to 26 years now. One problem I face a lot which hampers my quality of life is muscle stiffness. This prevents me from doing a lot of things and also results in pain from time to time.

Many dialysis patients lead a sedentary life. This lack of physical activity coupled with all the biochemical imbalances that kidney failure brings about results in several changes in the muscular and skeletal systems of the body. This results in difficulty in making some movements that otherwise healthy people make with ease.

Trouble is, we realise it late. Like I did. We are so busy dealing with the more immediate problems that kidney failure brings about that we neglect those problems that develop long term and don't focus on things that can prevent them.

Those who have been diagnosed with kidney failure recently however, should make use of the experience of those who've been on long term dialysis and take corrective steps as soon as possible.

Here are some things that you can do to prevent this from happening and some tips on dealing with it if it has already happened.

1. Exercise

Free Swimming Swimmer illustration and picture

Do some form of exercise as soon as you can. While this may be difficult in the early days of your diagnosis, as soon as you get stable (maybe about 3-4 months), speak to your nephrologist about incorporating some form of exercise into your daily routine. I t could be as simple as walking or swimming. Start small. Increase gradually.

2. Stretch

It is very important to do some form of stretching to prevent stiffening of your joints and muscles. Consult a physical therapist and see if you can learn some exercises from him that allow you to stretch these parts. Make sure they know you are on dialysis and if in doubt, have them speak to your nephrologist.

3. Yoga

Woman doing Yoga illustration and pictureYoga is a fantastic way to keep your body supple and flexible. It takes care of stretching all the important parts of your body and also provides you with mental peace, a really good side effect! The various asanas are designed to ensure both of these, provided you do it the right way. That is why it is very important to learn it from a good teacher and not simply follow videos or television programs.

4. Strength Training

I have written about this in the past already. But strength training is one thing that will keep you from losing the ability to do basic things like getting up from a chair without using your hands, standing on one leg while wearing your clothes and so on without ever requiring help from someone else. This will do wonders for your self-esteem. 

5. Ultrasound and Interferential Therapy

If you have pain in a particular part of your body (like the lower back, for example), these two techniques may help get rid of it. Physical Therapists typically have portable devices that allow them to administer these therapies at your home if you prefer.  Ultrasound Therapy delivers small Ultrasonic waves to the affected part while Interferential Therapy delivers a very small electric current to the affected site. Both these are barely felt and are completely safe. A few days of these two treatments have helped me get rid of these kinds of pain several times. Just make sure you consult an orthopaedic doctor before you get started.

Modern laser physiotherapy on woman patient. Laser therapy used on the arm to treat pain, Close up of physiotherapist using laser therapy on patient arm Adult Stock Photo

6. Painkillers and Anti-Inflammatory drugs

When anyone has kidney disease, doctors are very wary of prescribing painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. However, when someone has zero kidney function, the risk of damaging the kidneys by these two categories of drugs disappears. Obviously, this should not lead to indiscriminate use of these drugs since there are other organs that may be affected. But when there is bad pain, it may be advisable to disregard this caution in the case of dialysis patients, provided they are prescribed by a doctor and vetted by your nephrologist.

Common wisdom states that prevention is better than cure. When I was diagnosed with kidney failure in 1997, nobody told me about these things. I ended up with a lot of stiffness all over my body. I am trying hard to correct some of that by exercise and strength training. But a lot of it is irreversible. If you have been recently diagnosed or even a few years down that journey, please use the above advice and prevent yourself from ever getting there. All the best!


  • Henning

    Jun 15, 2023 9:07 PM

    Bullseye, Kamal!
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