Restless leg syndrome is a real medical condition, though many individuals dismiss it as a nervous twitch. In fact, an individual with restless leg syndrome feels significant discomfort in their legs, which is why they shake or otherwise move them. The swift movements help alleviate the discomfort, but this is only a temporary fix. Often, the discomfort returns within minutes after the individual stops moving their legs. Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, restless leg syndrome can have serious consequences. While it isn't life-threatening, the condition can inhibit sleep, and a sleep deficiency can cause a wide range of mental and physical problems. While a rapid movement of the legs provides temporary relief, there are several ways to treat the condition more effectively.
Cool Or Warm Compresses
Using cool or warm compresses can provide longer-lasting relief from the discomfort that characterizes restless leg syndrome. Temperature variations reduce the pain or discomfort in the legs, while also helping reduce the muscle twitching that occurs. While research on the effectiveness of this type of therapy is limited, many patients have reported experiencing success in trying temperature therapy. For heat, patients are advised to opt for the moist heat provided by heating packs, hot baths, and steamed towels, since this type of heat is more effective than dry heat. After exposing the legs to heat therapy for fifteen to twenty minutes, minor tension and muscle stiffness may be alleviated.
Alternatively, applying cold via frozen gel packs or ice packs may help by reducing the activity in overactive nerves. The exposure to cold reduces blood flow in the legs, which works to lessen the pain felt in the legs. However, it's important to limit exposure to cold to fifteen-minute intervals. Applying cold packs for longer can result in nerve, muscle, and skin damage.
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Sleep experts recommend individuals avoid caffeine consumption for several hours before bed because the substance acts as a stimulant in the brain. It can be a primary cause of insomnia and other sleep disorders, which is reason enough to limit the consumption of coffee, certain teas, and other caffeinated beverages. Additionally, it has also been found to increase the severity of restless leg syndrome symptoms. Caffeine causes individuals to feel more alert and aware, which is why too much caffeine taken throughout the day can leave individuals feeling agitated and restless at bedtime. In recent studies, patients with restless leg syndrome decreased their caffeine intake and found their symptoms decreased accordingly. However, the patients also suffered the withdrawal symptoms of reducing their caffeine intake. Symptoms like a loss of concentration, depression, and an increased frequency of headaches resulted. Eventually, these withdrawal symptoms will subside, and it may be worthwhile to deal with them when it means alleviating restless leg syndrome and improving quality of sleep.
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Relaxing Baths And Massages
Essentially, patients need to ease the tension in their leg muscles, which is why relaxing baths and massages can be especially helpful. In fact, this is one of the top home remedies for restless leg syndrome recommended by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Institute of Health. One study supporting this method of treatment observed the activities of a thirty-five-year-old female patient with restless leg syndrome. During the study, she submitted to two forty-five-minute leg massages a week for three weeks and reported her symptoms reduced. In addition to receiving deep tissue massages that applied direct pressure to the muscles in her legs, she also had Swedish massages. She reported the symptoms of restless leg syndrome gradually reduced as she engaged in more massages. Additionally, she reported the effects of the massages continued to eliminate her leg discomfort and added the effects of the therapy lasted for two weeks after she stopped participating in the massages. Whether relaxing the muscles through the direct stimulation provided by massages or through the easing of tension that a warm bath provides, these relaxation techniques can reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
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Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
The National Sleep Foundation recommends individuals practice good sleep hygiene to help them improve the quality of their sleep. It can also help reduce the discomfort caused by restless leg syndrome, because many of these practices also improve muscle relaxation. For instance, getting at least thirty minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise each day can help individuals expend the excess energy that can keep them awake at night. Exercise will also give muscles the workout they need to relax later in the evening. Patients should also avoid heavy foods that can inhibit sleep and can slow down the digestion process. Foods that are especially spicy, contain high starch, fat, or a high sugar content should be avoided in the hours before bed.
Most importantly, individuals need to develop a relaxation routine before bed. This means turning off electronic devices with the possible exception of using one to play relaxing music. Aromatherapy can also help patients relax, so experiment with different scents of essential oils, incense, or candles. Yoga, meditation, or a warm bath can all be great ways to promote relaxation.
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Traditionally, opioids were among the first medications prescribed to restless leg syndrome patients, but the highly addictive nature of these drugs make them a less preferred method of treatment. Currently, dopaminergic drugs are often prescribed, because it compels the brain to release more dopamine into the system. One of the functions dopamine serves is to help regulate body movements. This connection between dopamine and the control of body movement is why individuals with restless leg syndrome typically have lower than average levels of dopamine in their system. Unfortunately, long-term use of dopaminergic drugs is counter-effective, because the brain begins to become accustomed to the drug. This means the higher level of dopamine become accepted as the norm and the symptoms of restless leg syndrome typically re-emerge. In newer studies, anti-seizure drugs, like gabapentin, have worked to control symptoms. Research still hasn't identified why anti-seizure medication works, but restless leg syndrome patients do report their symptoms are reduced in frequency and severity while on the drug.
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Get More Exercise
An individual who is affected by restless legs syndrome may be able to relieve some of their symptoms by getting more exercise regularly. An individual who has restless leg syndrome should exercise for between thirty and sixty minutes each day, using parts of their body where they do not have achy joints. Additional activities like cycling, swimming, and yoga several times a week may also help an individual who has restless leg syndrome. Restless leg syndrome patients are recommended to not spend long periods in a sedentary state, as it may cause their symptoms to worsen. Any exercises considered strenuous or that take bursts of excessive amounts of energy are not recommended as part of the treatment regimen for restless leg syndrome. Before undertaking any form of exercise, an individual with restless leg syndrome must perform a stretching routine. Some examples of components that can be added to a pre-exercise stretch routine include calf stretches, front thigh stretches, and hip flexor stretches.
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Take Vitamin D Or Iron Supplements
An individual who experiences symptoms of restless leg syndrome may benefit from taking vitamin D and iron supplements. Restless leg syndrome patients have abnormalities in the way dopamine works with their neurons in the brain and body to produce different sensations in their legs. This malfunction causes the patients to feel discomfort in their legs, which provokes them to produce muscle movements. The movement of the legs helps interrupt the uncomfortable feelings that occur in the legs. The nervous system abnormalities that cause restless leg syndrome may develop due to a deficiency in either vitamin D or iron. A deficiency in vitamin D or iron can cause disruptions in the way neurons interact with each other and abnormalities in the way neurotransmitters work with the neurons. When this vitamin or mineral is replaced through supplementation, symptoms of restless leg syndrome may improve as the functionality of neurons and neurotransmitters also improve.
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Try Pneumatic Compression
Restless leg syndrome patients may be able to alleviate some of their symptoms by trying pneumatic compression devices on their legs. Pneumatic compression is a type of therapy that does not involve the use of pharmaceuticals, is non-invasive, and does not produce adverse side effects. A pneumatic compression device is a machine that uses an air pump to inflate sleeves attached by plastic hoses. The sleeves wrap around an affected individual's legs, inflate with air, and then relax in a pattern. This inflation and deflation of the sleeves around the patient's legs help improve the flow of blood by mimicking the action of walking around when actually at rest. Individuals who use pneumatic compression to help restless leg syndrome symptoms start with wearing the sleeves about an hour before they go to bed. If symptom improvement is not observed with that regimen, the patient can sometimes wear the sleeves on their legs when they sleep. When the nerves in the leg receive this kind of stimulation, restless leg syndrome symptoms subside the same way they do during the day when an individual is ambulatory.
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Stretch Before Bed
Performing stretches before going to bed every night can help treat the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. A calf stretch can be performed by outstretching the arms and placing them on a wall with the elbows straight. Next, one knee should be bent with the other stepping backward one or two steps placing the heel flat down on the ground. This position is held for thirty seconds, and then positions of the legs are reversed to stretch the other calf. A front thigh stretch can be performed by standing next to a wall and keeping one leg straight while pulling one ankle toward the buttock. This position is then held for thirty seconds, and the legs are reversed to stretch the other thigh. A hip stretch is performed by facing a chair placed against a wall and putting one foot on top of the chair flat with the knee bent. Once in that position, the pelvis is pressed in a foreword direction to produce a stretch at the top of the raised thigh. This position is held for thirty seconds, and then the stretch is repeated on the other leg. Reducing muscle tension before resting can help reduce abnormal communications between nerves.
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Underlying Condition Treatment
An individual affected by restless leg syndrome may have secondary restless leg syndrome, which is when the condition is caused by a separate underlying condition. A deficiency in certain nutrients, minerals, and vitamins such as magnesium, iron, folate, and vitamin D can cause the development of restless leg syndrome. These deficiencies disrupt the normal functionality of the nerve communications between each other. Amyloidosis, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, and lumbosacral radiculopathy are also known to be causes of secondary restless leg syndrome. Chronic diseases in the body that produce inflammation in the tissues like diabetes mellitus, Sjogren's syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis can also trigger restless leg syndrome. Kidney problems and uremia can produce symptoms of restless leg syndrome, as well as some infectious diseases like Lyme disease. By treating an affected individual's underlying condition, the symptoms of restless leg syndrome can be relieved.