Causes and Treatments of Restless Leg Syndrome

Imagine if you had a throbbing, creeping sensation in your legs, almost like bugs were running up and down them. Laying still is out of the question. You have an overwhelming urge to move. This is Restless Leg Syndrome. For some sufferers, it's like an itch they can't scratch. For others, it's an unpleasant tickling feeling that won't go away. Patients with RLS often wrestle with lack of sleep. They wake up exhausted, struggle with memory loss and are unable to perform simple tasks. Over time they can fall prey to depression and anxiety.


According to current medical journals, 10% to 15% of the population suffers from RLS with 3% experiencing severe, daily symptoms. Almost 1 million children have RLS and a quarter of pregnant women develop the disease in the third trimester. And, it becomes more common with age.


RLS is similar to, or it can accompany, a whole range of conditions, from varicose veins, sleep apnea and diabetes to kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson's disease. Often, restless leg syndrome is the precursor of the condition.



There is a lot of confusion as to the cause of RLS. Some experts link the disease to low levels of iron and dopamine in the brain. Some say its genetic. In fact, for a long time, medical professionals believed it was a lifelong condition with absolutely no cure. There are therapies available that can control or at least minimize the symptoms and increase restful sleep, but opinions are divided over the pros and cons of drug-based treatments.



Requip and Mirapex are two of the most commonly prescribed medications for RLS and were originally aimed at treating Parkinson's disease. Requip has shown limited success, and users of Mirapex have reported mixed results. Some claim it is a miracle drug. Others have complained of multiple side effects such as nausea, swelling in the legs and arms, weight gain and fatigue, dizziness, and symptoms that lead to compulsive behaviours like gambling or shopping.


Another concern is that Mirapex loses effectiveness over time which leads to individuals taking the drug having to increase the dosage. This creates the risk of withdrawal symptoms if for any reason the medication has to be stopped.


Another class of drugs subscribed for RLS treatment belong to the opioid narcotics family. Opiates calm the nervous system of course, but again, significant side effects have been reported, and addiction is a real concern.


Yet another form of medication that should be considered with caution are the benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Klonopin. These sedative medications are often used to treat anxiety and they can indeed be useful in getting to sleep, but there is a real danger of users developing an involuntary dependency on the drug. They can also make you feel groggy and sedated during the daytime.


Medications such as Neurontin, that are used to treat seizures have also been subscribed to treat RLS, with the idea being that the drug targets similar areas of the brain. Unfortunately, like all the other drug-based treatments, Neurontin too has side effects, and this is the reason many sufferers of restless leg syndrome are turning to natural and less risky forms of treatment.


Natural Remedies

Some of the most natural remedies for RLS can be found right before our eyes, but they may require a little effort to make use of. If you suffer from restless leg syndrome, here are a few recommendations that are worth following up on:


It has been found that going for a casual walk a few hours before going to bed can bring relief to many people afflicted by RLS. Some experts believe RLS is related to poor blood circulation and a simple walk helps to get the circulation going. Another way to improve circulation is massage. A massage which targets the thighs, calves and lower back can provide relief well into the evening and throughout the night.


Swimming is another physical activity with few health risks and many rewards. Swimming leaves you buoyant, with the weight of the body removed from the feet so the tension in the legs is reduced. Stretching is also recommended for sufferers of restless leg syndrome and stretching the calf muscles, in particular, has shown to bring substantial relief, as does a short bout of stationary bike-riding before going to bed.


RLS and Diet

Not all healthcare professionals agree that exercise is the best remedy for RLS. Dr Josh Axe, doctor of natural medicine suggests that a change in RLS sufferer's diets is the best way to alleviate symptoms.


Increased magnesium, (such as spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, yoghurt or kefir, almonds and black beans) more Vitamin B9 (asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocado, beans, peas, citrus fruits and lentils) and higher levels of potassium-rich foods (sweet potato, wild salmon, dried apricots, pomegranate, coconut water) can all help with restless leg syndrome.


Other Treatment Options

Some experts insist that restless leg syndrome is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance is often brought on by stress. By reducing stress levels the symptoms of RLS may also be reduced. Relaxation is a good antidote for stress and some simple ways to relax include:


  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • Socialising
  • Massage


The imbalance can also be caused by certain stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Simply cutting down or completely removing these stimulants from your lifestyle could go a long way to eliminating the creeping, crawling sensation in your legs. A cold-hot compress is another option, as is taking a warm bath just before bed.



Restless leg syndrome can be treated in many ways. You can focus on natural treatments, like reducing stress, avoiding stimulants, using hot/cold therapy, or by stretching and exercising on a regular basis. As a last resort, you can try medication recommended by a doctor. Remember, however, that a lot of the medications prescribed to combat the symptoms of restless leg syndrome come with a wide variety of side effects, so you might be better off trying a natural remedy first before asking a healthcare professional to subscribe you any kind of drug-based treatment.



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