Imagine winding down for bed, and suddenly, you feel an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. The sensation is so intense that you can’t help but move your legs for relief. Unfortunately, moving them provides temporary comfort until the aches return – it’s a constant battle. This scenario is what someone with restless leg syndrome (RLS) experiences. RLS causes severe discomfort, sleep problems, and interference with daily functioning. But thankfully, there are treatments to help you or a loved one feel better whenever you feel these aches.
What Is ‘Restless Leg Syndrome’?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a sleep disorder that causes an intense, uncontrollable, and often overwhelming urge to move your legs. You may even want to move your arms or body. The urge is a response to painful sensations occurring within your body like throbbing, aching, itching, burning, or tugging. You may feel these sensations when sitting for a long time, like driving, sitting in an airplane, or while watching a movie. These sensations unfortunately can cause severe sleep deprivation and other stress-related problems.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Often, there is no cause, and when there is no cause, it’s referred to as primary RLS. Others have secondary RLS, and researchers believe several factors and theories might explain why some are more vulnerable than others;
- Studies have found that 63% of patients with RLS have a relative with the same sleep disorder, and when this occurs, symptoms appear before 40 years old.
- Underlying health conditions like depression, renal kidney failure, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to or cause RLS.
- Researchers believe there may be an imbalance of dopamine, which sends signals to the brain for controlled muscle movement.
- Anemia and iron deficiency can actually cause or worsen RLS. There’s also a connection between kidney failure and iron deficiency, which disrupts the iron levels in your blood when your kidneys aren’t functioning well.
- Some women are more vulnerable to RLS during pregnancy. Yet, symptoms may disappear after delivery.
6 Restless Leg Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
While the main symptom is an overwhelming urge to move your legs or arms, there are other signs and symptoms;
- Sensations that occur while resting and sitting for long periods.
- Relief after movement
- Sensations that occur at night
- Sleep disruption, insomnia, or daytime drowsiness
- Periodic limb movement (PLM) causes someone to switch their legs periodically to relieve discomfort – many people with RLS also experience PLM
- Sensations that accompany RLS are often described as tugging, pulling, aching, throbbing, itching, or burning.
10 Treatment Options for Restless Leg Syndrome
1. Prioritize relaxation
Like many physical and mental conditions, stress plays a critical role in RLS. It can agitate your symptoms and make it difficult to find relief. Before bed, prioritize a handful of relaxation techniques to reduce stress and prep your mind for a deeper sleep. Breathing techniques for anxiety, taking a warm bath, and progressive muscle relaxation are all beneficial ways to wind down and decrease your symptoms.
2. Apply hot or cold compresses
When an uncomfortable sensation starts, don’t wait and grab either a hot or cold compress. Even if you’re sleeping, take a moment and place a compress on the affected area. The preferred temperature depends on the person, so you may need to play around to see which temperature works best for you. Some people with RLS even enjoy a cold shower before bed.
3. Establish a regular sleep routine
Anyone who goes to bed and wakes up consistently at the same time sleeps better, and this tip also applies to those with RLS. While establishing a consistent routine may not reduce your symptoms entirely, it will help alleviate the fatigue that continued leg movement causes. It will also reduce stress and train your mind for deeper sleep – a win-win.
4. Check your iron levels
If you have secondary RLS, you could also have an iron deficiency. Many studies found connections between iron supplements and decreased RLS symptoms. Therefore, contact your doctor and complete a simple blood test to rule out any underlying health conditions or vitamin deficiencies – it’s worth the trip.
5. Exercise consistently
Moderate and regular exercise can alleviate your symptoms. Studies find lighter exercises, including walking, jogging, yoga, and weight-lifting, resulted in less leg movement and deeper sleep. But be careful, high-intensity exercise can also cause muscle cramping and stiffness, which makes matters worse. Find what works best for you and make it a habit.
6. Consider yoga and deep stretching
A common symptom of restless leg syndrome is insomnia and difficulty sleeping. But a gentle yoga practice or deep stretch before bed can help alleviate the aching sensations. Also, if you’ve been sitting for a while, stretch your calves and upper legs for relief. Although it’s not clear why studies show stretching helps people with RLS.
7. Avoid caffeine
This tip applies to stimulants, such as tea, sugar, alcohol, and coffee. While they may give you a burst of energy to combat the daytime drowsiness, they can also worsen your symptoms and disrupt your sleep even more. Therefore, try to cut out coffee at least 3 to 7 hours before bed to make it easier for a deeper sleep.
8. Massage yourself
Massage is another tip to ease your symptoms and help boost relaxation before bed. While you’re winding down at night, either give yourself a massage or trade massages with a loved one. One study suggested that massages provide an increased release of dopamine that counteract the imbalance of RLS. It also improves circulation, decreases stress, and preps you for deeper sleep – a trifecta of benefits.
9. Consider a foot wrap or vibrating pad
Thankfully, some companies created foot wraps called restiffic and vibrating pads called Relaxis pads to help counteract your RLS symptoms. The foot wrap places pressure on your foot and sends messages to your brain to calm the overwhelming urge to move. And the vibrating pad goes on the painful area and sends vibrations to help relieve the aches. Both products support deep sleep by masking the uncomfortable sensations from RLS – your mind shifts to the vibration rather than the discomfort.
10. Seek professional help
If your RLS disrupts your functioning, including your ability to sleep, it’s worth seeing a doctor. Many patients with RLS forgo receiving professional help for fear of not being taken seriously. But the aches and pains associated with it can cause daytime drowsiness and interfere with your ability to work and live your life. Therefore, consider seeing a doctor if your RLS makes your life more challenging.
If you’re experiencing restless leg syndrome, you know how frustrating and painful it can be. Therefore, treatment should be a priority. But keep in mind that you may need to explore and experiment to find the right treatment plan that works for you.
This post contains affiliate links.
Did you find this post on restless leg syndrome helpful? We’d love it if you shared this post on Pinterest!
Looking for more health and wellness tips? Make sure to follow our Health Board on Pinterest!