Restless Leg Syndrome

What Is Restless Leg Syndrome

Affecting about 10% of Americans, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED), is a neurological condition that causes the uncontrollable urge to move your legs.  It is common to experience this urge in an uncomfortable situation because moving eases the feeling of unpleasantness temporarily, but most people experience during the morning or evening hours.  This condition can begin at any age, and it tends to worsen with age.  If left untreated, it can disrupt sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep or causing you to wake up from sleep.  It is possible to manage the condition through simple self-care methods. 

Signs Of Restless Leg Syndrome

If the name didn't give it away, the primary symptom is the urge to move the legs.  The symptoms of RLS can affect concentration, ability to travel, perform at work, and can interfere with other daily or social activities.  Accompanying characteristics of RLS can include:

  • Worsening symptoms in the evening
  • Unpleasant sensations in the legs or feet (occasionally in the arms)
  • Relief with movement (the sensation of RLS decreases with movement like walking, stretching, or biking)
  • Sensations that begin after rest (the sensation starts after you wake up from sleep or after extended seated periods in a car, airplane, or movie theater)
  • Throbbing limbs
  • Achy muscles in legs
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no known cause of RLS.  It is possible that certain people have a genetic predisposition to the condition, or it may be attributed to an environmental trigger.  About 40% of people with RLS have a family history of the condition.  In fact, there are five gene variants that are associated with RLS, so it can run in the family.  Other research indicates that RLS may be causes by a dopamine imbalance in the brain.  Dopamine sends messages to control muscle movement, and it is common for patients with Parkinson's disease to also have low levels of dopamine.  Other potential causes can include:

  • Family history
  • Pregnancy 
  • Iron deficiency
  • Kidney failure
  • Spinal cord conditions
  • Damage to nerves in the hands and feet

Dherbs Approach...adjusting your diet is always key!

Natural Remedies
  • Since RLS can sometimes keep you from falling asleep, it is best to do as much as you can to regulate your sleep pattern.  This means that you should strive to go to bed at the same time every night, and eliminate screens about two hours before bed to help calm the brain.  Try a nighttime yoga sequence to promote relaxation, or engage in meditation.  Establish a nighttime routine by keeping a sleep journal, which will help you keep track of what works and what doesn't. 
  • It can be beneficial to incorporate more stretching sessions into your daily routine, especially before bed.  Not only does stretching help to keep you limber, but it can also reduce symptoms of RLS.  Stretch your calf muscles by standing a little more than two feet away from a wall.  Keep your heels on the floor and lean toward the wall until you feel the stretch.  Alternatively, you can find a step or ledge, stand on the edge of it on the balls of your feet, and gently drop your heels off the ledge to stretch the calves. 
  • People love caffeine and some people incorporate coffee runs into their daily routine.  Caffeine is a known RLS trigger, so it is best to eliminate caffeine from your diet to see if symptoms subside.  Most people consume caffeine throughout the day, and it can affect everyone's sleep schedule, but people with RLS end up experiencing the worst of the worst because it increases the restlessness or shaking.  Watch out for caffeine that is hidden in foods like chocolate, flavored liquids or electronic cigarettes, teas, and sodas.
  • RLS patients may benefit from adding more magnesium to their diet.  Magnesium is essential for bone and muscle health, but it also helps to combat stress hormones and naturally relax muscles.  Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, Brazil nuts, spinach, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, avocados, bananas, cashews, kale, sesame seeds, and pine nuts.
  • Some people with RLS have benefited from the use of weighted blankets, which are also used to help calm anxiety.  A weighted blanket can offer a counterstimulation to combat the feeling of restless legs.  Since restless legs may possibly be connected to anxiety levels, it may be worth it to give weighted blankets a shot. 
  • As previously mentioned, caffeine can contribute to more intense restlessness, but other foods can also trigger bouts of restless legs.  It is wise to avoid certain foods, especially before bed, to help promote calm and more restful sleep. According to nutritionists, dairy products, alcohol, tobacco, and foods that are rich in sugar can trigger restless legs, so try to eliminate them from your diet to see if you experience better sleep and reduced restlessness. 
  • Experiment with different temperatures to see if this helps to naturally improve the condition.  While it is possible to take a hot bath or shower, take it a step further by applying cold packs or hot water bottles to your legs.  It is common for people with RLS to experience relief when heat is applied, but this doesn't work for everyone.  Other have been known to benefit from applying ice packs.  You can alternate between cold and hot to see which is more beneficial at relaxing muscles. 
Things you should eat
  • Avocados
  • Dark Leafy Greens (spinach, kale, chard, or collards)
  • Black Beans
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Quinoa
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Lentils
  • Almonds
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Brown Rice
  • Cashews
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