Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nervous system that causes a person an irresistible urge to move their legs. Symptoms are most severe when a person is at rest during the evening and night hours, especially while sleeping. For this reason, it is categorized as a sleep disorder. It is also considered a movement disorder as well, since people are forced to move in order to alleviate symptoms. However, the best way to categorize RLS is as a neurological sensory disorder.
What Does Restless Legs Syndrome Feel Like?
People with RLS describe an uncomfortable itch, throbbing, pulling, a feeling of pins and needles, or a “creepy crawly” sensation in their legs. It is possible for these feelings to only affect one side of the body, although they most commonly affect both legs. The only way the sensations are relieved is through movement, which may include shaking the legs, moving them around, or walking/running.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be described in severity from uncomfortable to painful. They can also come and go. Many people with restless legs syndrome will experience sleep disturbances, which can significantly impact their functioning during the day.
In moderately severe cases, a person will be affected by symptoms once or twice a week with significant sleep disturbances during those times. In severe cases, symptoms occur more than twice a week with sleep interruptions that affect daytime functioning.
Who Gets Restless Legs Syndrome?
It is estimated that 7–10 percent of the population has RLS. Women are more likely to get RLS, although both men and women can have it. You can get restless legs syndrome at any age; even young children can be affected by this disorder. Most people with RLS are middle-aged, and symptoms are likely to worsen over time. (1)
Most people with RLS also experience periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS), a condition characterized by involuntary leg or arm twitching and jerking during sleep. These movements can occur every 15 to 40 seconds, sometimes throughout the night.
Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome
In most cases, the causes of RLS are unknown, although there does seem to be a strong genetic component.
Evidence shows that RLS is related to the way the body uses the brain chemical dopamine. Since dopamine helps to produce smooth muscle activity and movement, disruption of these pathways may cause the involuntary movements often associated with RLS. (2)
Researchers have found connections between RLS and the following factors:
- Nutritional Deficiency. Iron deficiency, folate deficiency, and magnesium deficiency are all associated.
- Pregnancy. One in five pregnant women will experience symptoms of RLS in the last trimester of pregnancy. Symptoms usually disappear within a month after delivery.
- Medications. Certain medications, including antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications may increase your chances of developing RLS or worsen symptoms if you already have it.
- Substance Use. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can all aggravate RLS symptoms.
- Chronic Diseases. There is a higher chance of developing RLS if you have Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or peripheral neuropathy.
- Varicose Veins. There is a strong link between venous disease, such as varicose veins, and RLS. Both conditions cause discomfort, pain, and heaviness in the legs, and varicose veins can trigger RLS symptoms.
Natural Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome, you may want to consider these small but significant daily changes. Natural remedies like the ones listed below can help to relieve symptoms without the use of prescription medications.
1. Fix Deficiencies. Supplement!
There is a strong link between nutritional deficiencies and restless legs syndrome. Make sure that you’re getting enough magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.
Magnesium deficiency is a major cause of RLS. Up your magnesium intake by using a supplement—it can come in powdered or tablet form. You should also be eating magnesium-rich foods, including leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, bananas, avocados, and seafood. You should be getting 310–420 milligrams (mg) of magnesium daily, depending on your gender and age.
Iron deficiency is another big factor that may lead to the onset or worsening of RLS symptoms. Add more iron to your diet in the form of supplements and with iron-rich foods such as lentils, beans, soy, leafy green vegetables, baked potatoes, organ meats, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. Adults should be getting 17–20 mg of iron per day, depending on their gender and age.
B vitamins, especially B3, B6, B9 (folate) and B12, play an important role in nervous system health and in the synthesis of dopamine. You can ensure that you’re getting enough B vitamins by taking a daily supplement and by eating foods that are rich in those nutrients. Those foods include red meat, eggs, legumes, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and leafy green vegetables.
Regular exercise is one of the most effective remedies and preventive measures of RLS. According to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, people who exercise are over three times less likely to have RLS. Individuals with RLS can reduce symptoms by 40 percent with regular exercise. (3)
Aim for 30–60 minutes of physical activity each day. Make it fun by choosing activities you love, such as dancing, cycling, swimming, or walking. Incorporate strength training and stretching as well with workouts like Yoga and Pilates.
3. Reduce Stress Levels
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate RLS symptoms. Reduce stress hormone levels in the body by taking on daily stress-relieving practices such as breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises.
4. Epsom Salt Baths
Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which is why it’s such an effective treatment for restless legs syndrome. The Epsom salt infuses your body with minerals, and the warm bath water soothes the muscles and relieves discomfort.
5. Massage with Essential Oils
Certain essential oils such as lavender, geranium, bergamot, and ylang-ylang have soothing effects. They help to calm the senses and can improve symptoms of RLS. The massage helps to improve blood flow, and the constant touch and pressure on the skin, fascia, and muscles distract from and alleviate RLS symptoms as well.
Essential oils can either be mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly to the skin during a massage or put in a diffuser for aromatherapy.
RELATED: 8 Common Ways to Use Essential Oils
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Many people have reported relief from RLS with just a daily dose of apple cider vinegar. It balances pH levels in the body and increases nutrient absorption, reducing the risk of deficiencies.
Take one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day to ward off symptoms for good.
7. Bar of Soap
While completely anecdotal (and however strange it may sound), people with RLS have reported relief from symptoms with one simple trick. Place an open bar of soap next to your bed or in your bed while you sleep and your symptoms may improve. One theory as to why this works is that fresh soap releases ions, which help with RLS symptoms and leg cramps. Make sure it is fresh by changing the soap bar every month or so.
8. Calming Drinks
Combat night wakings and sleep disturbances by drinking a soothing drink before you go to bed. Herbal drinks that have chamomile, lavender, valerian, and lemongrass are all good options.
Don’t drink too close to bedtime to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night to empty your bladder.
Restless legs syndrome is an uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition that can severely affect one’s daily life. Treat symptoms the natural way by first making sure that you’re not deficient in any nutrients—especially magnesium, iron, and B vitamins. Combat and prevent symptoms with exercise, Epsom salt soaks, apple cider vinegar, and other remedies mentioned above.
Don’t let another day of discomfort go by—try these natural remedies right away!