RLS is a neurologic disease that is hard to explain -- and even harder to diagnose! Because it is so hard to diagnose and the symptoms are so non-specific, RLS has gotten a bad name in the medical community. This is part of the reason the RLS Foundation is trying to change the name of the disorder to Willis-Ekbom disease (WED). While RLS/WED occurs most often in the legs, it can also occur in the arms.
The cause of RLS/WED is unknown but many studies are being done to determine the causes and most appropriate treatments. Several things are known about the disease. First, there may be a hereditary component. Finally, symptoms may be worse if other health problems (for example, anemia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or end-stage renal disease) are present. Typically, sufferers describe the sensation in their legs as tingling, burning, itching, crawling, twitching or pulling and an undeniable urge to move their legs. Since these symptoms happen more at night, they may disturb your sleep causing other problems resulting from loss of sleep. Sleep deprivation may lead to depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, inability to think, increased clumsiness and weight gain or loss.
Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome
The good news is that there are a number of home remedies for restless legs syndrome which can help relieve some of the symptoms. If you cannot control your symptoms using these techniques, you should seek care from your healthcare provider. Before taking any medications, even OTC supplements, you should consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to ensure there are no interactions with other medications you might be taking.
1. Keep Your Legs Moving
Be sure to get up and walk at work; if you are driving, stop every two hours and get out of the car to walk. Since symptoms are more prevalent when sufferers are at rest, a simple way to relieve the symptoms is to get up and move!
2. Eat Nutrient-rich Foods
Be sure your diet is high in iron, magnesium and folic acid foods. The following recommendations are based on an average-sized adult.
- Iron-rich Foods are cheap, easy to find that may help prevent or relieve RLS. Iron-rich foods include foods such as: most beans or peas, dark chocolate, red meats (such as lean beef or lamb), internal organs (especially liver of turkeys, chickens, pork and beef), dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots), nuts and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, chard and collard greens), cereals and grains (that have iron added), artichokes, and seafood particularly mollusks (such as oysters and scallops). And increase your intake of foods containing Vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron.
- Magnesium-rich Foods may be a little harder to incorporate into the average American's diet, but everyone should be able to find at least one good source from this list: dark chocolate including cocoa powder, wheat, oat or rice bran, nuts, beans and seeds (such as dry or roasted melon seeds, sunflower seeds. cashews, almonds, edamame beans, and Brazil nuts), molasses, and herbs (such as coriander, chives, spearmint basil, and sage).
- Folic Acid-rich Foods are important for preventing and treating Restless Legs Syndrome. Folic acid is also known as folate or Vitamin B9. Foods to eat to increase your folic acid include: liver from any animal but particularly turkeys, seeds, beans and nuts (such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, edamame beans, sprouts, and chickpeas), dark leafy greens (such as spinach, turnip and collard greens), herbs (especially spearmint, rosemary and basil are packed with folate), and asparagus.
3. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol and Nicotine
Many sufferers of RLS / WED find that these substances increase both the frequency and severity of their symptoms.
4. Develop A Healthy Bedtime Routine.
- Take a warm, relaxing bath or shower before bed.
- Try to go to bed at about the same time each night.
- Drink warm milk before bedtime.
- Don't watch TV in the bedroom.
- Don't exercise right before bed.
- Try meditation before bedtime.
5. Do Exercise in Moderation Early in the Day
Exercises that stretch your calf muscles may be particularly helpful. Be aware that it may take up to six weeks to see the benefits of an exercise program, but RLS sufferers who do moderate exercise typically have about a 50% reduction in symptoms! Exercises that may help to prevent or relieve RLS include:
- Hip Stretch. Face a chair whose back is resting against a wall. Raise one of your feet and place it even on the seat of the chair. Press forward while keeping your back straight. Feel the stretch in your hip as you hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Switch your legs and repeat it.
- Front Thigh Stretch. Stand next to a chair or wall that you can hold onto as you do this exercise. Grab the front of one ankle with your other hand and pull your foot up in the back toward your head. Feel the stretch in the front of your thigh as you hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Switch your legs and repeat it.
- Calf Stretch. Facing a wall, put your palms flat against the wall. Step back about 18 inches with one of your feet and make sure your foot is even on the floor. Bend your back leg slightly until you can feel the stretch in your calf. Hold the stretch to a slow count of 30. Switch your legs and repeat it.
6. Massage Your Legs
Gentle massage of the legs may help; consult with your doctor before doing this if you have a history of clots in your legs.
- Wear Compression Stockings. Compression stockings may help -- just be sure to get the right size since stockings that are too small may make the symptoms worse.
- Take Supplements. Your healthcare provider may suggest supplementary vitamins and minerals if lab tests determine that you need additional iron, folate, or vitamin B. Before you start mega-doses of any supplement, check with a nutritionist or healthcare provider -- even OTC medications can be harmful if taken in large doses. Instead of taking supplements, try changing your diet first to increase your intake of foods high in these minerals.
- Watch for Certain Medications. Many medications can increase or worsen the symptoms of RLS / WED. If possible, avoid taking antihistamines like diphenhydramine. Check the labels of OTC sleep medications that often contain this class of medication. If you are taking psychiatric, antidepressant or anti-nausea medicines, be sure your prescribing provider knows about your symptoms. Some of these medications can make the symptoms even worse. Do NOT stop taking these medications without talking to your doctor first!
7. Apply Cool and Warm Compresses
Cool or warm compresses may help; try both and see which works for you.
8. Ease Your Stress
Stress seems to make the symptoms of RLS/WED worse. Develop healthy stress reduction habits!
9. Take Certain Medications
If the home remedies for restless legs syndrome fail to relieve your symptoms, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication that is usually used for Parkinson's disease. The drugs approved for this use include: Requip, Neupro and Mirapex. There are side effects associated with these medications so be sure to try home remedies before using these drugs.