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What Is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that can affect both men and women. RLS is described as an urgent need to move the legs, or the legs feeling extremely restless. It feels as if you must move your legs, almost to the point of your legs twitching.
Different people experience RLS in different ways. Some say their legs ache. Some say their legs get itchy or tingly or feel pins and needles. Some even feel pain. Sometimes RLS makes it difficult to sit still for very long, and can even prevent some people from getting to sleep, or from staying asleep. Some women have an onset of RLS with pregnancy and may have RLS throughout their pregnancy, and then have it go away after childbirth. In all cases, it feels like you just have to move your legs to get some kind of relief.
What Causes RLS?
Nobody knows for sure why some people get RLS. It does seem that health, nutrition, and physical activity play some part.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the following factors can contribute to RLS:
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of magnesium in the diet
- Lack of Potassium in the diet
- Lack of Folate (folic acid) in the diet
- Lack of iron in the diet
- Overactive nerves
- High intake of carbohydrates
- Anti-depression medications such as Paxil or other SSRI type anti-depressants
- Back problems or back surgery can trigger RLS
As stated previously, there are many cases of women getting RLS with the onset of pregnancy, and then having it disappear with the birth of their child. My thoughts are that during pregnancy, vitamins and minerals are absorbed and used differently, sending much of the nutrients to the fetus. So whereas the woman may not normally be deficient in these things, pregnancy may cause them to be deficient. WebMD suggests this is a possibility with folic acid and iron in particular. Then after birth, the nutrients are absorbed and utilized by the woman, and not redirected to a baby, so the symptoms go away.
Of course, this does not provide an explanation to those that have RLS and are not pregnant, including men with RLS.
How to Decrease Your RLS Symptoms With Research-Backed Methods
Unfortunately, there's not one great "cure-all" for RLS. Medical doctors have been trying many different treatments with different people. While one thing might work for one person, it won't work for the next few people. So treatment is specialized for each person. A patient may need to try several things to see what works for them. Here I discuss several ways people decrease their RLS symptoms.
Homeopathic Remedies for RLS
There are many homeopathic treatments you can try on your own, however, it's always a good idea to seek the advice of a doctor or homeopathic practitioner before taking anything new, especially if you're pregnant. Homeopathy also is supplemental to traditional medical care and not a replacement for treatment by a doctor. According to Kaiser Permanente, some of these remedies include:
- Arsenicum album: Best for those who feel tired but restless, Arsenicum album can help with anxiety burning sensations in the legs.
- Rhus toxicodendron: Best for people who are feeling overwhelmingly restless and who suffer from the inability to fall asleep and stay in bed. This is for individuals who feel sore and stiff unless they're moving.
- Zincum metallicum: Best for drinkers who feel fidgety after a beverage.
Other remedies are recommended as well, but these three are the most frequently used to decrease RLS symptoms.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
According to RLS.com, taking vitamin and mineral supplements you are deficient in may ease symptoms of RLS. Iron, vitamin B12, and folate are shown to curb symptoms in particular. Although, often times supplements alone aren't enough to eliminate the symptoms completely. It is best to consult a nutritionist to find out what vitamins or minerals you might be deficient in before compensating for nutrients at home. This is particularly true for minerals that, in large doses, can inhibit the uptake of other nutrients. If taken in the wrong dose, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium can potentially inhibit the uptake of other necessary nutrients for example. In lieu of taking supplements, a more natural approach would be to alter your diet, including foods that are high in magnesium, folate, and iron.
Some people have reported that taking valerian root helps them to get to sleep, though it may not ease all of the symptoms of RLS. One study with a limited sample size of individuals (37) reported that taking 800 mg of valerian decreases RLS symptoms and improves quality of life.
Lifestyle Changes That Can Alleviate RLS Symptoms
- Exercise: Exercise has been shown to alleviate some RLS symptoms for some people, especially cardiovascular and other exercises that work out the leg muscles. Try walking, jogging, running, sprinting, doing squats, lunges, or doing stretches that affect the thigh and calves.
- Leg Massages: Leg massages help some RLS sufferers, especially when done before going to bed at night.
- Hot Baths: Some people have received some relief from RLS symptoms when taking hot baths.
- Futuro Magnetic Bands (Compression Socks): During my research, I found one person who said that wearing these bands above the ankles when going to bed alleviated all RLS symptoms and allowed them to sleep. The bands were worn moderately loose so as not to interfere with blood flow.
Other Remedies Backed by Patient Experience
The following remedies were used by individuals with RLS, and some have worked for eliminating symptoms! These remedies are not backed by the scientific process.
Oxygen Machine (or a Chi Machine)
During my research, I found one person who bought an oxygen machine for their home, using it for 10 minutes before going to sleep, and this helped them alleviate their symptoms and they are now able to sleep the whole night through.
Perscription RLS Remedies
If homeopathic remedies don't work for you, prescriptions are an option. According to one doctor I visited, there is no one medicine that works to treat RLS, unfortunately. Doctors try various things to see if they can find something to help alleviate symptoms of each individual person, or at least help them to get a good night's sleep. The following is a list of just 'some' of the remedies that have been used. All require a prescription, so a consultation with your doctor is required. Some of the prescription medications include:
- Bromocriptine (Parlodel)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Klonopin (tolerance and addiction are a concern with this one)
- Methylphenidate (used to treat ADHD)
- Mirapex (Parkinson's medication)
- Neorontin (anti-seizure medication)
- Nocturnal Antihistamines
- Permax (Parkinson's medication)
- Sinemet (and Sinemet cr) (many people report a high number of side-effects with this one)
- SRI antidepressants
One doctor I visited stated that they have so much success treating RLS with Mirapex/Requip that they rarely have to resort to prescribing Symmetrel, which has also shown promise.
My Personal Experience With Magnesium and Potassium
I recently consulted a nutritionist and he said that oftentimes magnesium and/or potassium deficiency can cause muscle cramps and restless leg syndrome. He recommended taking both together for the highest effectiveness. For six months, I experimented with taking magnesium and potassium supplements alone, together, and in varying amounts. I have found that if I only take one without the other, I still get RLS. If I don't take enough magnesium, I still get RLS. When I take enough magnesium and potassium together every day, I don't have RLS symptoms.
Sites Dedicated to RLS
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Sleep | National Sleep Foundation - Information on Sleep Health and
- Restless Legs
Find Restless Legs Syndrome/Ekbom's Disease information, symptom information, and resources.
- Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
- Southern California RLS Support Group
- Patient letters on RLS symptoms and remedies- Page 37
Grow by WebMD. N.D. Pregnancy and RLS. From https://www.webmd.com/baby/pregnancy-and-rls-restless-legs-syndrome#1
Kaiser Permanente. N.D. Restless Leg Syndrome (Homeopathy). From https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=hn-2255006
Mitchell, U. H. (2011). Nondrug-related aspect of treating Ekbom disease, formerly known as restless legs syndrome. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 7, 251.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. N.D. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. From https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Restless-Legs-Syndrome-Fact-Sheet#3
Cuellar, N. G., & Ratcliffe, S. J. (2009). Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless legs syndrome?. Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine, 15 (2). Chicago.
Wilt, T. J., MacDonald, R., Ouellette, J., Tacklind, J., Khawaja, I., Rutks, I., ... & Fink, H. A. (2012). Treatment for restless legs syndrome.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Amber Killinger
CONSCIOUSNINJA from Planet Earth on February 16, 2012:
yes, its always the best route... im actually a pharmacist but not a typical one - i prefer gearing my patients towards natural and alternative remedies, and save convenetional meds as a lasssst case scenario... & when i do recommend meds, i inform the patient on all relevant points so that they are making an informed decision to take the med...
check out some of my other articles... there are a few health based ones in there you may find interesting..
Amber Killinger (author) on February 14, 2012:
Thanks! I always prefer natural remedies and try not to resort to medications.
CONSCIOUSNINJA from Planet Earth on February 14, 2012:
this is a good hub... im happy to see you recommended natural therapies first and foremost rather than automatically jumping to prescription medications...