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We all get antsy from time to time and feel the need to get up and move around. But for people who suffer from restless leg syndrome, these feelings aren’t just an occasional bother. The urge to move and the uncomfortable, even painful, sensations in the legs and other parts of the body can be debilitating. (They also may be related to sleep myoclonus, which causes twitching while sleeping.) Fortunately, there are numerous restless leg syndrome treatment options that are all natural and effective.
What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, presents such symptoms as an urge to move along with uncomfortable sensations in the legs. People often have a hard time finding the right words to describe these feelings, but often describe them as painful.
Symptoms tend to begin or worsen during times when a person is resting or inactive; moving around may alleviate symptoms. As the condition progresses, however, movement may no longer help, and the discomfort may become present in other parts of the body (such as the arms).
These symptoms make sleeping as well as regular daily activities difficult. Studies show that people with RLS may be up to three times more likely to report depression, anxiety, and stress than the general population.
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RLS Cause? A Mystery…
While the exact cause of RLS can be a mystery, we now know that a variety of factors can affect the onset and development of the condition.
Iron deficiency, for example, plays a major role: 25 percent to 30 percent of people with conditions that make them iron deficient (including pregnancy) may develop RLS. A dysfunction in the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine is also thought to be a major contributor to RLS.
Conventional Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment
Drug treatments for RLS include opioids, sedatives, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines, and dopaminergic agents. Dopaminergic drugs, which increase the activity of dopamine, are most commonly used. However, these drugs have many side effects including nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, dizziness, insomnia, and drowsiness. What’s more troubling is that they can make symptoms worse in many cases (a phenomenon called augmentation).[3,4]
Dopaminergic drugs can also inhibit lactation and may have other risks during pregnancy, so they may not be appropriate for the many pregnant women who develop RLS.
Natural, Effective Strategies to Reduce Symptoms
To avoid the use of these risky drugs, try these natural strategies.
- Check your iron levels. Iron deficiency is one of the major contributors to RLS. Up to 75 percent of people with RLS can have depleted iron stores. Work with your doctor to determine your iron levels and appropriate measures to get you back in the normal range.
- Boost dopamine. Low dopamine function is known to be a problem for those with RLS. Instead of conventional drug treatments, try these natural dopamine boosters that can help you to relieve RLS symptoms as well as improve mood, focus, and more. Strategies include addressing a magnesium deficiency, decreasing stress, and supplementing with tyrosine.
- Exercise. Researchers believe exercise can help tremendously. In one study, hemodialysis patients with RLS were assigned to take dopaminergic drugs or to undergo aerobic exercise training. The results showed that exercise improved symptom severity just as well as the drug treatment option.
- Try yoga. Small studies have found that regular yoga practices can benefit people with RLS. Yoga can reduce symptom severity as well as improve sleep, enhance mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and decrease blood pressure in RLS patients.[3,8]
- Check your medications. RLS symptoms may be a side effect of common medications. Read your labels and if you suspect your medications are playing a part, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Avoid triggers. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can all make your symptoms worse.
- Take care of yourself at home. Techniques like taking hot baths, stretching regularly, massaging the painful areas, using compression devices on your legs, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule can all help. If your symptoms get worse in the evenings when you tend to be more inactive, try staying more alert with games or other activities such as crossword puzzles.[1,5]
Share Your Experience
Do you have restless leg syndrome (RLS)? How do you find relief? Do any of the strategies listed above work for you? Share your experience in the Comments section below.
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Originally published in 2015 and updated.