Imagine lying awake at night with tingling legs, feeling like you’ve got fizzy soda in your veins. If this sounds familiar, know that you aren’t alone. About 1 in 10 people has had this experience at some point in their lives.1 Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological condition that causes unpleasant crawling and throbbing in the legs. This leads to an overwhelming urge to move them while they’re at rest. The sensation often gets worse in the evenings or at night. Furthermore, the severity of the condition can vary, ranging from uncomfortable and irritating to extremely painful. Some people have symptoms occasionally, while others experience them every day.
The unusual thing about RLS is that lying down or relaxation can set it off. This makes it difficult to fall asleep or get a full night’s rest. A severe case can cause insomnia and sleep deprivation, both of which can affect your work life and personal relationships. It might also lead to depression and anxiety.
Women seem to be more susceptible to this condition than men – they’re twice as likely to get it. And though you can get it at any age, it’s most common in middle-aged individuals.2
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is also linked to the involuntary jerking of the arms and legs during sleep, a condition known as periodic limb movements. About 80 percent of people with RLS experience periodic limb movements during sleep.3
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
It’s often difficult to discern what causes RLS. Interestingly enough, it seems to run in families. There is evidence that it is also related to dysfunction in the brain’s basal ganglia. This circuit handles dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls muscle movement. A dopamine imbalance can result in involuntary movements. Dopamine levels naturally fall during the later part of the day, explaining why RLS symptoms seem aggravated in the evenings or at night.
RLS has also been found to be associated with several other factors:
- Low levels of iron can cause a drop in dopamine levels. Subsequently, iron deficiency anemia has been linked to RLS. In this case, taking care of the deficiency with supplements or iron-rich foods can relieve symptoms.
- Lack of magnesium, a vital mineral that maintains normal muscle and nerve function, is also linked with restless leg syndrome.
- Chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and fibromyalgia have been associated with RLS. An underactive thyroid gland or chronic kidney disease can also be a trigger. Treatment of these underlying conditions can offer relief from RLS symptoms.
- Certain medication such as antihistamines, antipsychotics, and hypertension medicines can intensify symptoms.
- Lifestyle factors such as sleep deprivation, stress, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise have also been found to trigger or worsen symptoms.
- Pregnancy might also have a connection with RLS. About 1 in 5 pregnant women experiences symptoms in the last trimester. However, these symptoms usually go away on their own about a month after childbirth.4 5
Natural Remedies To Treat Restless Leg Syndrome
For severe cases of RLS, your doctor may prescribe painkillers, sleeping aids, or medication that increases dopamine. You should also rule out the chances of an underlying health condition, as listed above. Luckily, mild RLS can be managed naturally through lifestyle changes, exercise, and diet.
1. Adopt Good Lifestyle Practices
Taking care of certain areas of your lifestyle can improve symptoms of RLS.
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco may help decrease RLS symptoms. Pay attention to your intake of these substances as they may trigger your RSL.
- Adopting good sleep habits can also help. This includes practicing a regular sleeping schedule, avoiding daytime naps, and taking the time to wind down before bed.
- Exercising regularly can be useful. It’s important to avoid physical activity too close to bedtime, though.6Going for a walk, stretching, or doing relaxation exercises (like tai chi) can help soothe the RLS sensation.
- Since low iron and magnesium intake can cause RLS, eating rich sources of iron may make a difference. Ideal foods include poultry, lean meat, and seafood. In the United States, wheat flour is usually fortified with iron. Spinach and legumes are excellent vegetarian sources for both. Aim to have a healthy, balanced diet. If you decide to take supplements, don’t forget to check with your doctor first.7 8
2. Try Herbal Remedies
Certain herbs can be useful in dealing with the symptoms of RLS.
- Nutmeg has a wonderful aroma and sedative properties that can relax the nervous system. Ayurveda recommends consuming 1/8 teaspoon in warm cow’s milk before bed. This will aid healthy sleep while treating RLS.9
- Valerian is known for its medicinal properties. For centuries, it has been used as a sedative, sleep aid, and antispasmodic. A study found that taking 800 mg of valerian for 8 weeks in capsule form was able to reduce the severity of RLS symptoms and decrease daytime sleepiness.10
- Aromatherapy suggests combining equal parts of Roman chamomile and lavender essential oils with a carrier such as grape seed or almond oil. This mixture can be rubbed on your legs at bedtime until symptoms improve.11
- Soaking in a warm bath infused with a blend of milk (1 ounce) and neroli or ylang-ylang essential oil (3 drops) for about 15 to 20 minutes before bed can also help reduce symptoms.12
3. Practice Yoga
Yoga might be just the thing to calm down those restless legs. A study found that participants who attended 90-minute yoga classes twice a week (and practiced 30 minutes on the other days) experienced improved RLS symptoms, sleep quality, and mood after 8 weeks. The yoga sessions began and ended with relaxation exercises, including downward facing dog pose (Adho mukha svanasana), tree pose (Vrksasana), and hero (Virasana). The participants also indicated that they experienced enhanced energy and improved fitness after practicing yoga.13
4. Consult An Osteopath
Osteopathy, a form of manual therapy that focuses on muscles and joints, can treat RLS. Specifically, a technique known as positional release manipulation is helpful. This method involves locating pelvic tender points that are both specific to RLS and your pain. Next, the body or limb is moved into a position where you experience pain relief in the tender point. This position is held for 90 seconds before the limb is returned to a neutral position.14An osteopath can help set a personalized regimen that works for you.
5. Get A Massage
Getting regular massages might help with RLS. Research found that 45-minute massages, twice a week, were able to improve symptoms like urgency to move the legs, tingling sensations, and sleeplessness after just two treatments. A variety of massage techniques – such as deep tissue, sports massage, myofascial release, and trigger point therapy – were applied on the piriformis (a buttock muscle) and hamstring during this intervention.15
|↑1, ↑2||Restless legs syndrome. National Health Service.|
|↑3||RLS / PLMD. Sleep Management Institute.|
|↑4||Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Causes of restless legs syndrome. National Health Service.|
|↑6||Treating restless legs syndrome National Health Service.|
|↑7||Iron. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑8||Magnesium Fact Sheet for Consumers. NIH.|
|↑9||Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic medicine: the principles of traditional practice. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2006.|
|↑10||Cuellar, Norma G., and Sarah J. Ratcliffe. “Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless legs syndrome?.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 15, no. 2 (2009): 22.|
|↑11, ↑12||Press, Sonoma. Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, An Introductory Guide: More Than 300 Recipes for Health, Home and Beauty. Arcas Publishing, 2014.|
|↑13||Innes, Kim E., Terry Kit Selfe, Parul Agarwal, Kimberly Williams, and Kathryn L. Flack. “Efficacy of an eight-week yoga intervention on symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS): a pilot study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 19, no. 6 (2013): 527-535.|
|↑14||Peters, Theo, Roderic MacDonald, and C. M. J. Leach. “Counterstrain manipulation in the treatment of restless legs syndrome: A pilot single-blind randomized controlled trial; the CARL Trial.” International Musculoskeletal Medicine 34, no. 4 (2012): 136-140.|
|↑15||Russell, Meg. “Massage therapy and restless legs syndrome.” Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 11, no. 2 (2007): 146-150.|