Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant feelings in the legs, including crawling sensations, prickling, aching, tickling sensations, and an urge to move the legs when sitting down or lying in bed. RLS affects approximately 10% of adults in the U.S. Researchers believe that RLS is commonly unrecognized or misdiagnosed as insomnia or other neurological, muscular or orthopedic condition.
Although the precise cause of the disorder is still not known, there are factors that seem to predispose a person to it, including genetics, gender, and age.
Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome
Experts believe that restless legs syndrome is caused by an imbalance of dopamine, a chemical that transmits signals between nerve cells in the brain. Restless legs syndrome is usually genetic, about 60% of people with restless legs have a family member with the condition.
Knowing which RLS risk factors affect you can help you figure out the best way to prevent and lessen the symptoms since you’ll be able to address the cause of your RLS.
- 25 percent of pregnant women experience RLS, but it usually goes away at the end of pregnancy. During pregnancy, there are lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or ease the symptoms.
- Iron deficiency, varicose veins, diabetes, and lung disease can all cause RLS. If you have one of these conditions, getting appropriate medical treatment may also help to prevent RLS from occurring.
- Being overweight or obese can predispose you to RLS more readily. Taking steps to lose weight may help prevent RLS.
- If any of your close family members have had RLS, your chances of having it may be increased. There’s nothing you can do to alter this risk factor, but you can make changes to prevent or lessen the symptoms.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
People with restless legs syndrome feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs, especially when sitting or lying down, accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the affected limb. These sensations less commonly affect the arms, trunk, or head. Although the sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides.
Because moving the legs (or other affected parts of the body) relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.
Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome
Many find that certain lifestyle changes and home remedies prevent or mitigate the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Here are 12 home remedies for restless legs syndrome.
1. Reduce Stress
People who are stressed tend to sleep poorly and seem to be more prone to suffering from RLS. Relaxation techniques, such as breathing, yoga and meditation, can help reduce your stress level. Aromatherapy too can help relieve stress to a great extent and relax the muscles.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of water is thought to help to reduce RLS. The amount of water needed to keep you adequately hydrated is dependent on your personal needs and health. As a general rule, drink water every time you get thirsty, and substitute water for coffee, sugary drinks and alcohol as often as possible.
3. Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine appears to contribute to RLS, so minimizing the level of your daily caffeine intake can be helpful. Caffeine is found principally in coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, and energy drinks. Avoid any stimulants by way of medication or drugs.
4. Quit Smoking
The risk of RLS seems to be higher for people who smoke. To prevent RLS, eliminate or reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke per day, and cut out any other products that contain nicotine.
5. Rosemary Oil Massage
Rosemary essential oil acts as a muscle relaxant and the smell of the oil soothes both body and mind.
- Mix 5 ml of rosemary essential oil with 10 ml of olive oil or coconut oil.
- Massage your legs and feet with this oil mixture.
The massage should be done twice a day especially before going to bed at night.
6. Take Iron Supplements
In a study, iron deficiency has been shown to be correlated with increased symptoms of RLS. Therefore, for people with low iron levels, taking iron supplements (or consuming iron rich foods) can help control the symptoms.
- Note that this must be done with caution, as too much iron can be problematical for the body. It is wise to consult your doctor before trying this approach to ensure that it is a safe option for you.
7. Take Vitamin B12 Supplements
Taking vitamin B12 as supplements and adding it in your diet as well can help control the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Vitamin supplements can help in developing strong muscles and prevent the occurrence of RLS.
8. Drink Mint Tea
Mint tea is a popular herbal tea and is excellent for helping in digestion of food. It also has soothing properties that help relax the mind and body. In fact, some people also spray mint in the room as the minty smell helps them sleep better. This is one reason mint tea is an excellent aid for restless legs syndrome.
- Drink two cups of mint tea every day to reduce the attacks of the syndrome. You can also keep fresh mint leaves under your pillow and mattresses for sleeping better at nights. The fresh smell of mint will help you relax better.
9. Warm Compress
Just as cold compress offers great relief from restless legs syndrome for some, others find relief when they use a warm compress. Take warm water in a basin and soak your feet in this for 10 minutes.
10. Stretch Your Legs
Winding down with some leg stretches before going to bed can help your legs loosen up and relieve tension. While there’s no conclusive evidence that stretching will prevent RLS, some find it beneficial.
- Sit on the edge of the bed and firmly massage your calves to give the muscles deeper stimulation.
- Go for a brief walk around your home. Take long steps and bend your legs to stretch the muscles.
Stop if the stretching produces a charley horse or leg cramps. Those are strong signs of magnesium deficiency and can’t be alleviated by stretching.
11. Massage Your Legs
Massage your legs frequently to get rid of the tingling sensation that is common with individuals suffering from RLS. Massaging your lower back and legs (including the calves and feet) regularly would both stimulate the muscles in them, and send appropriate signals to your brain indicating that your legs are healthy and active. This would in turn control the symptoms of RLS effectively for extended periods.
12. Get Active
Those with a sedentary lifestyle seem to be more prone to getting RLS. Include more exercise in your daily routine but start gradually, especially if you’ve not exercised for a while. Exercise not only helps prevent RLS but can also help reduce symptoms if they are already present. The kind of exercise that is most beneficial is anything moderately strenuous, and doing it regularly. Try swimming, cycling, walking fast, running, gym work, yoga, and so on.
- Intense leg workouts can help. Try a week of daily intense leg exercises lasting around 20 to 30 minutes; cycling or fast walking are excellent choices.
- Brisk walking four times a week for 30 minutes at a time has been shown to lessen the severity of RLS over a few months.
- Swimming is a very gentle way to stretch leg muscles, especially if other forms of exercise cause you to cramp when stretching.
- If your symptoms aren’t improving or are getting worse, speak to your doctor. Don’t self-medicate in the hope it will go away; it won’t if it hasn’t already and it could be masking something more serious.
- Do not take iron tablets without your doctor’s advice and if you miss taking it, never double up to make up for the missed supplement.