An Introduction to Alternative Healing Techniques for Restless Leg Syndrome
How Do I Make It Stop?
Begin to Reduce Aggravating Impulses Naturally and Take Back Control of Your Sleep
“It’s a burning. No, it’s an itch. No wait, maybe it’s just nerves. Not that, it’s got to be just a stretch.” There are many things we tell ourselves to try and explain or make sense of the need to constantly fidget our legs.
Restless legs Syndrome (RLS) is a chronic movement disorder which causes an urge to move your legs due to unpleasant sensations. These sensations are usually described as tingly, crawling, pulling, electric, itching, throbbing, or creeping feelings that cause an overwhelming urge to move the affected limb. The condition is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease.
It typically occurs when the person is sitting, resting, reclining, or sleeping and mostly at night. The sensations are partially or completely relieved by movement such as walking around, dancing, shaking, or stretching. Movements in the limbs caused by RLS are called periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS).
There are two main types: primary and secondary. For people who have primary RLS, it’s been frustrating. There is no scientifically known cause, making it a poorly understood neurologic disorder. However, for sufferers of secondary RLS, their symptoms have been better isolated due to their typical association with diabetes, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, nerve problems, pregnancy, iron deficiency, or chronic kidney failure.
For most people with RLS, the symptoms are mild. But if the symptoms are moderate to severe, RLS can have a significant impact on your life. It can prevent you from sleeping enough, which of course can cause problems with daytime focus and thinking, job performance, and social activities.
As a result of these problems, RLS can lead to anxiety and depression. The longer a patient has the condition, the worse it can get. It can further spread to other parts of the body such as arms. Due to the detrimental effects RLS can have on your life, treatment is essential as fast as possible.
The methods of treatment vary, as the root cause of RLS is not truly known. For instance, some researchers suggest that RLS is caused by problems with the brain chemical dopamine, or genetics. Others suggest that it’s related to poor circulation.
Here we list some of the alternative best treatments for tackling RLS. Although not exhaustive, you can try some of these treatments on your own.
"Just do it" is the key word with exercise, according to Rachel Salas, MD, an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Getting your body moving may help by releasing endorphins and boosting up dopamine.
But do we all have time for a regular workout routine? Some women will definitely respond ‘No’ and shy away starting any sort of routine they don’t believe they can maintain. But fear not—it’s been proven that just purposeful stretching of the muscles, tendons, and hamstrings can help alleviate the night time horizontal cycling.
Yoga in particular has been shown to nearly halve RLS symptoms and improve sleep after 8 weeks per a 2013 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Try to do your sweat session early in the day, as some patients find that exercising too close to bedtime makes symptoms worse.
There are some yoga poses that can specifically target RLS; I suggest Viparita Karani (legs up or upside-down seal), Paschimottonasana (seated forward fold), Balasana(child’s pose), Bhujangasana (cobra), and Chakravakasana (cat-cow).
Adopt healthy sleep habits
I know what you’re thinking. ‘The fact I can’t sleep is the whole point!’. I hear you.
But have you stopped to consider that your sleep schedule is too sporadic or too ‘secondary’ on your list of priorities? Just like any important aspect of life, we need to plan for it if we want the maximum result.
Of course, having good sleep habits is advisable for everyone, but even more so for those of us who have trouble sleeping and especially those of us with RLS. While sleeping better may not fully resolve your RLS symptoms, it could help you offset the sleep loss you suffer from your condition.
Some helpful sleeping tips are a consistent sleeping time. I know life cannot always be so neatly boxed into a schedule, but it’s important to let your body and mind know that sleep is coming at a predictable time. It’s also important to keep your sleep area cool, quiet, and dark. That means avoiding distractions such as TV and your phone. Detach yourself. You can do it. It has been proven that avoiding electronic screens two to three hours before you go to sleep significantly impacts your mind’s ability to slow down and relax. Blue light from these screens can distort your circadian rhythm, preventing you from falling into a natural sleep cycle.
Engage Your Mind
When laying down, sometimes we just think too damn much if we let ourselves, and detaching from screens leaves you alone with your thoughts.
Immobility triggers RLS. You might feel an irresistible urge to move your legs when sitting still. Doing something at that moment to distract yourself can reduce the restlessness or make it less noticeable.
You may be saying, ‘Hey—you just told me to avoid distractions!” Well, let me clarify. I meant we avoid mindless distractions.
Pick up an engaging book (on real paper) or work on a crossword puzzle. Do something with your hands like knitting or crochet. And if you simply must have the phone, play puzzle games or language quizzes. Or just have a stack of fun conversation starters by the bed to get your mind off your legs. Chat with your partner in person or a friend on the phone.
Additionally, I strongly recommend guided meditations and/or Yoga Nidra before sleep. Your mind is transported and engaged in ways that enable you to access a state of relaxed consciousness. I write in detail about this fantastic, ancient practice in my chakra healing books.
Like every other medical condition, stress aggravates restless leg syndrome and makes things worse. Stress is associated with higher levels of cortisol and other inflammatory markers, all of which bolster RLS. Successful restless legs syndrome treatment typically incorporates stress reduction techniques.
As a faithful practitioner of pranayama, I strongly believe that breathing techniques can and will reduce your stress, calm your mind, and enable you to center yourself. I highly suggest Surya Bhedana Pranayama (right nostril breathing). This will elevate your Pranic energy that will not only help your digestive tract but revitalize your body and calm your nervous system. I also like Bhramari Pranayama (humming bee breathing) to release stress and cerebral tension.
On a side note, avoiding stress also means avoiding putting things into your body that aggravate stress such as tobacco and nicotine products or processed sugar.
Get a Massage
People interested in homeopathic treatments for RLS will be excited to know that massage is an effective remedy. Professional techniques such as Swedish massage and myofascial release work wonderfully to rid your body of built-up toxins and work the membranes around muscles. And there’s nothing stopping you from giving yourself a calf massage every night before bed.
Massage has been proven to decrease restless leg syndrome problems because it naturally increases the amount of dopamine in your body by as much as 30%. This means you can avoid or reduce plasma dopamine-related drugs which can cause poor impulse control and hypertension long term. Another way massage may decrease RLS discomfort is by increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues via improved circulation.
Compress your calves
Administered in hospitals, a pneumatic compression device (PCD) is typically used to improve circulation and prevent blood clots. The treatment uses a “sleeve” that goes over the legs inflating and deflating, while gently squeezing and releasing your limb.
Some researchers believe that a cause of RLS is low oxygen levels in the limbs. They think that the body responds to this problem by increasing circulation via the muscle contractions that occur when the person moves their limb.
A 2009 study of 35 people who used a PCD for at least an hour every day for a month had markedly improved RLS symptoms, sleep quality, and daytime function. Improved circulation has shown that pneumatic compression can help relieve RLS symptoms.
RLS causes significant discomfort, sleep issues, and other problems with daily functioning. Drug medications do exist to treat this condition but, for those of us who want more natural, less invasive options, there is hope.
It’s important you talk to your doctor to identify the severity of your RLS first. Then, consider trying to manage your symptoms on your own with some lifestyle changes. Prompt treatment is a priority.
Also, keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another, and you may need to try several different treatments before you find one that really truly works for you. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I know you didn’t ask for RLS but you do control the way in which you confront it.