There are some good reasons why natural remedies for RLS are a preferred solution to conventional medications. Conventional medications are temporarily effective, but they have side effects (such as fatigue, dry mouth, weight gain, and brain fog), and their powers may be limited. “The medicines tend to stop working after 2 or 3 years, though newer ones may help for 8 to 10 years,” says Norma Cuellar, PhD, a professor of nursing at Capstone College of Nursing and a complementary medicine consultant for the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. “But the older you get, the worse your symptoms, so it’s a good idea to find alternative ways to manage them.”
Do you have aching, creeping, crawling, or prickling sensations in your legs when you lie down or sit still? Those are the classic symptoms of a common disorder called restless legs syndrome.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological disorder that affects millions each year. People who suffer from RLS often have aches, pains, or sensations in the legs when they are lying down in bed or sitting. With restless leg syndrome, your legs feel like exercising even though the rest of your body and mind are ready for sleep.
Because this happens more often at night or while lying down, RLS can make it difficult for you to fall asleep or stay asleep – and this in turn can decrease your quality of life.
RLS occurs more in women than men. It can happen at any age, but it affects adults more often, according to the National Institute of Health.
The symptoms of RLS can vary in duration and severity for each person. Some people experience mild symptoms intermittently, while others may have more severe symptoms with each episode. No matter what your pain level is, there are some natural remedies for RLS that you can try to help you manage your condition.
It’s not well understood what causes RLS, but researchers do know that there is a connection between your lifestyle and how frequently your symptoms occur. There are some lifestyle changes that you can make to help ease your symptoms. We’ll look at these later.
Some people with RLS further develop mood swings, depression, or other health problems.
Natural Remedies for RLS That You Can Try:
As we have seen, rest or sedentary pose, especially sitting down or lying on the bed for a long time, triggers restless leg syndrome. Not surprisingly, exercise seems to act as an antidote. Being active daily for 30 minutes to one hour is one of most practical solutions for preventing restless leg syndrome as well as reducing its symptoms
Stretching exercises are particularly helpful. Most restless leg syndrome patients report a significant reduction in symptoms, better sleep, and improvement in daytime function with as little as 30 minutes of daily exercise. Mild forms of exercise such as walking at a comfortable pace and light jogging are more effective than vigorous workouts. Also, it is better to avoid workouts towards the evening.
Here are some stretching and moving tips to ease Restless Legs:
- Get moving at lunchtime: Take your sandwich with you for a walk to the park or around the block.
- Give your circulation – and you – an afternoon boost; jog in place for a few minutes.
- Work out the kinks at work: Take a 5-minute break every hour – get up, stretch, walk around.
- Do your body a favor and ease RLS symptoms – start and end your day by stretching your legs.
- Road trip? Whether passenger or driver, stay alert and loose. Stop often for a good stretch.
- Ease mind and body – and restless legs – with a gentle leg massage.
- Jetting off on a business trip? Request an aisle seat when you fly. Then give your circulation a boost by getting up frequently.
- Got the 3 o’clock slump? Skip the coffee, get up and do leg stretches for 5 minutes.
Chronic stress seems to increase the risk of restless leg syndrome as well as worsen the symptoms. That could be because of stress hormones keep the muscles in a constant state of tension. Meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques can reduce stress and improve restless leg syndrome.
Train your brain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction teaches psychological techniques for managing symptoms. With this approach, people with RLS tackle anxious thoughts proactively instead of allowing themselves to become panicked or trying to push the thoughts away.
“A patient might say: “I know the symptoms are going to come, and I’m going to accept them and I’m going to work with them,'” says Cuellar, who oversees a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for people with RLS. “We teach people how to do that therapy before symptoms happen, and it relaxes them; it helps them be mentally prepared.”
According to a 2015 study in the journal Mindfulness, a 6-week program of MBSR improved symptom severity, sleep quality, RLS-specific quality of life, and overall mental health in participants with RLS.
3. Leg massages
Massaging the lower legs and other parts that have restless leg syndrome symptoms help the respective muscles relax. Self-massage works, but massage by another person is even more effective in reducing symptoms. Extra blood circulation to the muscles also might be contributing to this effect.
We intuitively rub where it hurts, and massage does seem to help with RLS. A 2007 study found that twice-weekly bodywork focusing on the lower legs eased symptoms such as tingling sensations, urge to move, and sleeplessness. “It doesn’t have to be a deep tissue massage of the calf muscles,” Cuellar says.
(Try adding these foam-roller exercises to ease aches and pains.) “Patients say that even a light rub and touch helps.” For similar reasons, wearing compression stockings for an hour before bed may also ease symptoms. In a randomized, double-blind study in the journal Medicine in 2009, a third of the people who tried it got complete relief from their RLS symptoms, and the rest reported significant improvement.
4. Hot and cold compression
A hot bath before bed can help anyone with insomnia, but for those who have restless leg syndrome, it has the additional benefit of relaxing the muscles and reducing the symptoms. Warm compresses also have a similar effect, but alternating heat and cold compresses are found to be even more helpful in reducing pain and discomfort. Try different methods and choose what works best for you.
5. Healthy diet
What you eat has a role in how you feel, and that’s true in the case of restless leg syndrome. A diet that provides sufficient amounts of protein, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals may remedy the nutritional deficiencies that cause restless leg syndrome.
Include green leafy vegetables, meat, beans, seeds, and fruits that contain quality protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and B-complex vitamins in the diet. Eat more of spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, dark chocolate, avocado, bananas, and figs. Bone broth is excellent too. Flavor the food with unrefined sea salt and Himalayan pink salt.
Taking some probiotic foods like live-culture yogurt and kefir may help increase the population of beneficial gut bacteria. They help with the absorption of many nutrients from the food, besides fighting off many undesirable microbes. People with celiac disease have an increased risk of restless leg syndrome, so anyone with gluten intolerance or other food allergies should avoid the respective foods.
7. Vitamin and mineral supplements
Deficiency in certain minerals and vitamins is known to increase the risk of restless leg syndrome. If you cannot close the gap with dietary modifications, consider taking supplements, but get a doctor to prescribe them.
The link between anemia and restless leg syndrome had been observed by Dr. Karl-Axel Ekbom after whom the condition was originally called Willis-Ekbom disease. It is now known that dopamine deficiency in the substantia nigra of the brain, which controls neuromuscular movements, is a risk factor for restless leg syndrome as it is for Parkinson’s disease. Since Iron is essential for dopamine synthesis, it explains why people with anemia are prone to restless leg syndrome.
However, Iron supplementation should be done at a doctor’s recommendation and only after conducting a ferritin test.
9. Take Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency causes muscle twitches and tightening that can trigger or worsen restless leg syndrome. The right balance between this mineral and calcium is necessary because it is required to remove excess calcium from soft tissues and help them relax. Deficiency of magnesium can result in calcification of smooth muscles too.
These vitamins are essential for neurological health in general, and supplementation often helps reduce symptoms.
11. Vitamin D, C, and E
Deficiency of these vitamins is often observed in people with restless leg syndrome. In many cases, supplementation resolved the symptoms, but they are ideally prescribed according to specific needs. Overdosing, especially in the case of Vitamins D and E, may have dangerous side effects.
While there still needs to be more research on supplements for restless leg syndrome, some studies have shown promise. One study found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and RLS. When supplements were given to participants in the study, the symptoms of restless leg syndrome improved.
12. Sleep hygiene
Restless leg syndrome often make it difficult to fall asleep after you have been in bed for quite some time. You can avoid it by practicing proper sleep hygiene. It involves fixing a regular bedtime, toning down physically and mentally stimulating activities as the evening progresses, and having a practical bedtime ritual like reading or listening to soft music.
Another suggestion to help induce sleep is, to listen to (not watch) ASMR whispered videos. ASMR stands for “audio sensory meridian response” and refers to the tingling and sleep inducing sensations that you receive from soft whispers and related ‘tigger’ sounds. There are some very good productions on YouTube such as this one. Very effective!
You need to figure it out by trial and error method. Dedicate the bed and the bedroom to sleep, and rid them of all sleep-disrupting gadgets like alarm clocks and cell phones.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
If you have mild RLS, lifestyle changes may be among the only natural remedies for RLS that you need.
You can try to prevent RLS symptoms by:
- Avoiding (or limiting your intake of) caffeine, tobacco, and nicotine, which are common triggers of RLS symptoms
- Making sure you’re getting enough iron in your diet or by taking supplements (some studies have linked iron deficiency to RLS)
- Reviewing your medications with your doctor and possibly changing medications that may be triggering RLS
- Exercising regularly
- Engaging your mind with distracting activities (such as talking to people, needlework, or video games) when you have to remain seated
Other activities can help alleviate RLS symptoms, including:
- Taking a hot or cold bath
- Using heat or ice packs
- Walking or stretching
- Massaging your legs
- Doing mentally challenging tasks
To help you fall and stay asleep, it’s also important to adopt good sleeping habits, including:
- Keeping your sleeping area cool, quiet, and dark
- Engaging in a mentally challenging or distracting activity before bed, such as a crossword puzzle, or reading.
- Removing devices from your sleeping area that can disrupt sleep, such as TVs, computers, and phones. The “blue light” from these devices is known to inhibit sleep.
- Sticking to a sleep routine (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day)
Using breathing exercises or other techniques to relax at night