Muscle Cramps

A muscle cramp is a strong, painful contraction or tightening of a muscle. Muscle cramps are common in people with cirrhosis and can be very distressing. Cramps can happen for no apparent reason and may last from a few seconds to several minutes.

Causes

The reason why people with cirrhosis get muscle cramps is not well understood. Usually they come on suddenly with no apparent cause, and can be worse at night.

There are also reasons people get muscle cramps that are not related to cirrhosis. Examples of other conditions that can cause muscle cramps are:

  • Restless legs syndrome (irresistible urge to move or shake the legs)
  • Vein diseases of the legs
  • Low hemoglobin
  • Changes in sodium, potassium or magnesium levels in the body

Treatment

Medications

Your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe medicines to treat causes like low magnesium.  They may also recommend other medicines. Medicine used to treat cramps can have serious side effects, so it’s not always the right choice for everyone.

Calf Exercises
  • Stretch and massage the affected area
  • If the cramp is in your calf muscle
    • Straighten your leg and lift your foot upwards, bending it all the way so that your toes point towards your shin
    • Walk around on your heels for a few minutes

Self Care Tips:

  • Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol or caffeine.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Stretch your muscles every day.
  • Deep tissue massage may be helpful.
  • Take a warm shower or bath to relax the muscle. You can also try a using a heating pad over the sore muscle.

Let your healthcare provider know if:

  • you get new muscle cramps.
  • cramps continue even after treatment.
  • cramps are making it hard for you to move.

References:

The information on this page was adapted (with permission) from the references below, by the Cirrhosis Care Alberta project team (physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and patient advisors).

This information is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare team. They know your medical situation best. Always follow your healthcare team’s advice.

References: 

  1. US Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration 
  2. Canadian Liver Foundation
  3. Davison SN on behalf of the Kidney Supportive Care Research Group. Conservative Kidney Management Pathway; Available from: https//:www.CKMcare.com.
  4. My Health Alberta
Last reviewed March 15, 2021
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