“Restless Leg Syndrome” doesn’t sound very scientific, but it’s more descriptive than how it’s otherwise referred: Willis-Ekborn Disease.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is the general term given to a condition that can cause tingling, numbness, throbbing, or other unpleasant feelings in the legs, especially at night.
Moving your legs can relieve discomfort but it’s not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep and it won’t solve the problem in the long run.
Although you don’t hear about it very often, the condition is quite common, affecting ten percent of adults in the U.S. and almost a million children (1).
There are several factors that can contribute to restless leg syndrome (2):
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- Sleep deprivation
- Medications – anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants, cold and allergy drugs, heart and high blood pressure medications, and antipsychotics.
- Pregnancy, especially in the third trimester (3)
- Mineral deficiency
- Liver or kidney disease
- Stress – A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study found that people who suffer RLS have elevated levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in their brains; a stimulating hormone produced excessively during periods of stress (4).
How do You Know if you Have RLS?
The condition causes many symptoms that often appear simultaneously:
- Discomfort and pain are worse at night and are greatly reduced or non-existent in the morning
- An overwhelming and irresistible need to move the legs
- Sensory sensitivity triggered by rest, relaxation, or sleep
- Sensory sensitivity that is relieved with movement and the relief persists as long as the movement continues
In children, pain and discomfort might be attributable to growing pains but may be a sign of the condition, so keep an eye out for other symptoms.
For an accurate diagnosis, consider visiting your general practitioner.
6 Ways to Treat RLS
Although doctors typically prescribe drugs to keep RLS under control, there are many natural ways to give your legs some relief.
Restless leg syndrome can be a sign of deficiency in folate (vitamin B9), magnesium, iron, and/or potassium. If you find you are experiencing the symptoms listed above, ask to have your blood tested for mineral content.
To stock up on these important minerals, here are some foods to add to your diet:
High in folate : Chickpeas, spinach, kidney beans, oranges, strawberries
Rich in potassium: Asparagus, avocados, bananas, cauliflower, red leaf lettuce, mushrooms
Loaded with magnesium: Almonds, avocado, banana, basil, cabbage, cashews, coriander, dill, lentils, figs, okra, seeds, spinach, squash, and thyme. Taking an Epsom salt bath is also a great way to get more magnesium as it’s easily absorbed through the skin.
Iron sources – Chickpeas, dates, kale, spinach, swiss chard, and organ meats.
Thirty to sixty minutes of physical activity a day—whether walking, yoga, or more vigorous exercise—can reduce fatigue, help you sleep better, and prevent or relieve symptoms of RLS. It also helps to reduce stress (5).
3. Quit Smoking
Many medications have been indicated in the occurrence of RLS, including asthma medications, metoclopramide, diuretics, prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives, antidepressants that increase serotonin, and some medications that contain sedating antihistamines.
Consult your doctor if you are taking any of these drugs and are experiencing symptoms of RLS.
Applied topically to the soles of your feet or taken as a tea before bed, chamomile is soothing and calms the nervous system. The flavonoid antioxidant apigenin is thought responsible for its countering the stress receptors in the brain (like glutamate), promoting a sedative effect (7).
RLS can be caused or exacerbated by nerve compression in the back and/or legs. A therapeutic massage, or even self-massage, is very effective in releasing muscle constriction and promoting ease of movement.
- “There is a natural release of dopamine after massage that may be beneficial for those that live with RLS.
- Massage may be providing a level of stimulation to the cerebral cortex that makes it less prone to RLS episodes.
- Massage may also activate the thalamus, which is believed to play a role in the severity and frequency of RLS.”
By its very nature, massage may “fix” whatever is causing muscles and nerves to require the level of stimulation experienced in RLS. Massage is relaxing and both stress and anxiety appear to affect RLS (8).