Restless leg syndrome (RLS), marked by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, is a neurological disorder that affects as many as 12 million Americans. Symptoms usually strike when patients are lying in bed at night, but restless leg syndrome can also flare up in the daytime (during prolonged periods of sitting, for example).
Restless leg syndrome patients typically report a feeling of burning, tingling, aching, itching, or tugging deep beneath the skin of their lower legs (and sometimes in the thighs, feet, hands, and arms as well). Although symptom intensity and duration vary from person to person, moving the legs tends to ease the discomfort for most patients.
Causes and Complications of Restless Leg Syndrome
In about half of cases, patients have a family history of the disorder. Restless leg syndrome is also associated with a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and kidney failure.
In a study published in 2009, scientists discovered that obesity and excess abdominal fat may raise restless leg syndrome risk. Past research also suggests that abnormalities in levels of the brain chemical dopamine may be linked to restless leg syndrome.
Because restless leg syndrome frequently disrupts rest, patients often experience sleep deprivation and insomnia, which in turn can contribute to a host of other physical and mental-health problems (including cardiovascular disease).
Remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome
Some doctors may suggest dopaminergics, benzodiazepines, or opioids for the treatment of RLS. But there are some ways to treat it naturally. Here are five options:
1) Adopt Healthy Habits
Since caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can trigger symptoms, avoiding all three substances could bring restless leg syndrome relief. Fatigue can also aggravate restless leg syndrome, so keep up a healthy sleep regimen (by sticking with a regular bedtime and wake time, for instance). Exercise may benefit restless leg syndrome patients as well, but remember that working out within a few hours of your bedtime may get in the way of a good night's sleep.
2) Hot and Cold Therapy
Applying a warm or cold compress to the affected area, or alternating hot and cold therapy, may soothe restless leg syndrome symptoms. For further relief, try taking a warm bath and gently massaging your leg muscles.
3) Relaxation Techniques
Since maintaining sufficient levels of calcium and magnesium helps keep your muscles and nerves functioning properly, taking a daily multivitamin/multimineral may tame restless leg syndrome symptoms.
In some cases, low levels of iron can result in restless leg syndrome. However, since too much iron can be toxic to your system, you should never use iron supplements without first consulting with your doctor. To boost your iron intake through foods, look to sources like beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
5) Alternative Therapies
Research indicates that the needle-based traditional Chinese therapy known as acupuncture may help relieve restless leg syndrome. And in a 2007 study, scientists found that receiving massage therapy that targets the lower body could help ward off restless leg syndrome symptoms for several weeks.
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M. Russell. "Massage therapy and restless legs syndrome." Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2007 11(2): 146-150.
Santos B, Oliveira AS, Canhão C, Teixeira J, Dias AR, Pinto P, Bárbara C. "Restless legs syndrome." Acta Médica Portuguesa 2008 21(4):359-66.
Wu YH, Sun CL, Wu D, Huang YY, Chi CM. "Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture on restless legs syndrome." Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion 2008 28(1):27-9.