What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)? Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder where a person has unpleasant feelings and sensations in the legs, often described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling, or painful.
Often occurring in the calf or lower leg area, but can be from the ankle to the upper thigh.
RLS occurs in one or both legs and occasionally in the arms. Symptoms occur mainly when lying down, or when sitting for a long time, such as at a desk, in a car, or watching a movie.
RLS sufferers often say they have an irresistible urge to move the legs. Moving the legs, knee bends, walking, rubbing and massaging legs can bring brief relief.
RLS symptoms get worse when the sufferer relaxes or ceases activity, especially in the evening and sleeping hours. RLS can prevent people from falling asleep or maintaining sleep, the result being extreme fatigue. This fatigue can affect the person’s daily activities.
A related sleep disorder that some RLS sufferers experience called periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS) causes the person to jerk or bend their legs unintentionally during sleep approximately every 10 to 60 seconds, or even hundreds of times during the night!
It can commence at any age, even in young children, however most people with RLS are middle-aged or older. Older people have more frequent symptoms for longer periods of time. Young people are sometimes thought to have “growing pains” or considered “hyperactive” because they cannot sit still.
Some people with RLS may not seek treatment thinking they won’t be taken seriously, that their symptoms are too mild, or that the condition can’t be treated.
Sometimes there is confusion over diagnosis and the symptoms have been thought to be due to something else such as nervousness, stress, arthritis, muscle cramps, insomnia.
Symptoms vary with each person, ranging from uncomfortable to quite painful and frequency varies. Described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling or painful, with great urge to move the legs.
These feelings often occur deep inside the leg, between the knee and ankle usually involving both sides of the body, although they can happen on just one side.
A person may have periods of RLS attacks, then not experience any for a while, but they usually return, others may experience severe symptoms every day.
There is a constant need for movement of the legs (or other affected body parts) to lessen discomfort such as constant moving while sitting, pacing the floor, tossing and turning in bed.
What Causes RSL?
Some medications, including some cold and allergy medicines, may make symptoms worse so discuss with your doctor. Often a family history is present, so symptoms may occur when the person is young.
RLS can develop in pregnancy, in the last 3 months then symptoms often go away about a month after birth. Anaemia can cause RLS. Once low iron levels or anaemia is corrected, symptoms can lessen.
Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy, (loss of feeling or numbness in the hands and feet) may be linked to RLS.
How Is RLS Diagnosed?
There are no tests for RLS so diagnosing is not clear so symptoms can be confused with other conditions. Diagnosis depends on description given to the doctor including past health disorders, medications taken, along with family history.
A complete physical and neurological exam maybe given to ascertain any link with other disorders such as nerve damage or abnormalities to blood vessels.
There is no cure for RLS, but it can be controlled by diagnosing and treating an underlying condition, such as peripheral neuropathy or diabetes.
Encouraging moderate exercise and plenty of sleep.
Various pharmaceutical drugs for sleeping, relaxation, easing muscular pain can be prescribed.
Natural Therapies Can Help:
- Starting the day with stretching exercises such as yoga/pilates. It has been found that strenuous exercise does not help RLS. Half an hour of gentle exercise before bedtime can also be beneficial. The Yoga “pose of the child” is helpful in stretching the muscles in the legs.
- Daily walking.
- Massage or Bowen Therapy to relax the muscles. Self massage of the legs before sleep – always massage upwards.
- Warm Epsom salt baths before bed for insomnia, and essential oils of lavender, clary sage, marjoram or vetivert for relaxation of the mind and body. No more than 4 drops of each into a full bath. Do not use these oils if you are pregnant.
- The homeopathic remedy Rhus tox 30c helps for muscle relaxation.
- Herbal remedies for helping you unwind and relax.
- Tissue Salt Mag. phos. (6C) treats muscle spasms.
If none of these “off the shelf” remedies help you may need to see a naturopath or homeopath so they can tailor make your remedies for you often at a more suitable potency.
Mineral and vitamin deficiencies could be present so diet needs to be assessed especially B vitamins, B12, iron, folate and magnesium.
The digestive system may be sluggish and underlying problem such as malabsorption of nutrients, food allergies, leaky gut needs to be addressed.
Exclude all caffeine beverages, sugar and all processed foods, replacing them with fresh healthy foods you prepare yourself.
Increase potassium rich foods such as salads, dark leafy vegetables, bananas, avocados, potatoes, dried apricots, vegetable soups, brown rice, lentils, rolled oats, buckwheat, chia, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.
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