Restless legs

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An irresistible urge to move the legs is the main characteristic of the disorder known as Restless Leg Syndrome.

Also called

RLS

Symptoms

A feeling sometimes described as like insects crawling inside the legs, the discomfort caused by RLS may also be referred to as tugging, burning, jittery or tingling.

As you'll see below there are a variety of ways the symptoms can be experienced.
  • Ranging from discomfort to pain, the symptoms tend to be felt deep in the calves, though occasionally may be felt in other parts of the lower limb or in the arms
  • The sufferer is overwhelmed by a desire to stand up or move around when lying or sitting and although this movement temporarily relieves the uncomfortable feeling in the legs, the situation also makes it difficult to rest or sleep
  • Many patients have noted a twitching of the leg muscles during sleep. As this may occur every five seconds, these spasms severely interfere with sleep, and cause fatigue
  • RLS is often mistaken for a variety of other disorders, including stress, insomnia and muscle cramps, making it common for symptoms to be present for many years before the condition is diagnosed
Some experience the symptoms of restless legs syndrome very rarely and may be RLS-free for weeks and even months at a time.

Causes

Although not conclusively established as the cause of RLS, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter dopamine (which helps muscle movement control) could possibly contribute to the disorder.

Some other contributing factors may be:
  • Genetics play a part in as many as 50% of RLS cases
  • Iron deficiency
  • RLS can develop in the latter stages of pregnancy, resolving approximately a month after birth. Women who already suffer from restless legs syndrome have been known to experience a worsening of the condition during pregnancy
  • Patients with peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage affecting the hands and feet), kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease can be prone to experience RLS
Symptoms can also be aggravated by such factors as:
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Stress
  • Some medications including those used to treat digestion problems, depression, nausea and high blood pressure

Natural therapies

There are a variety of different natural therapies that may not only help relieve the symptoms but may also help you gain much needed rest if the condition is interfering with your sleeping patterns:
  • If you have an iron deficiency then taking an iron supplement may be helpful in reducing the symptoms associated with RLS
  • Not only important for nervous system function, a magnesium supplement may help prevent muscular spasms and help manage leg cramps that may occur during the night
  • It is recommended to accompany your dosages of magnesium with some other nutrients that are also involved in the maintenance of muscle tissue including folic acid and vitamins C and B12
  • If the condition is accompanied by poor circulation then taking Ginkgo biloba may be helpful
  • Passionflower, lemon balm and hops are all herbal remedies that can help with insomnia, especially when sleep patterns are disturbed by factors such as stress or nervous tension

Diet and lifestyle

Restless Leg System can be helped by taking steps to manage stress levels, as stress can aggravate the symptoms. Modify lifestyle in the following ways to reduce stress:
  • Practice meditation or yoga, especially right before bedtime to put you in a relaxed state ready for sleep
  • Burning the candle at both ends can exacerbate the symptoms of RLS and going to bed at a regular time, in a relaxing and peaceful environment may help alleviate the condition
  • A nice long soak in a warm bath accompanied by a leg massage can promote muscle relaxation and may help you achieve a deep restful sleep
  • Alternating hot and cold packs on your legs can help but don’t apply a cold pack for more than ten minutes at a time
  • Experts recommend about 30 minutes of moderate exercise on all or most days of the week. This kind of moderate, regular (but not excessive) exercise can have a positive effect on RLS. It is best not to start a new fitness regime without first consulting your doctor or healthcare professional
  • Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco should all be avoided

Important notes

  • It is also important to note that any concerns you have about prescribed medicine causing or contributing to your restless legs syndrome should be discussed with your doctor
  • If symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional