What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder with an uncontrollable urge to move the legs to relieve paresthesia (tingling/pricking sensation) or dysesthesia (unpleasant, abnormal sensation) in the legs. These sensations can range from being merely irritating, to extremely painful. As a result, most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep which may lead to fatigue, difficulty in concentration, impaired memory, and failure in accomplishing daily tasks.
Unpleasant Sensations: People typically describe restless leg syndrome (RLS) symptoms as unpleasant sensations between their knees and ankles; calves and thighs; feet or arms, often expressed as crawling, tingling, cramping, creeping, pulling, painful, electric, tense, uncomfortable, itchy, gnawing, aching, or burning. Inactivity triggers uncomfortable sensations in their legs (between the knee and ankle), especially when sitting or lying down for an extended period of time, such as in a car, airplane or movie theater.
Irresistible Urge to Move: The sensations of RLS get minimized or relieved as one gets up and moves. Generally, people with RLS cope with the sensations they feel by stretching, stomping their feet, changing body positions, pacing the floor, pressing the legs, exercising or walking.
Worse in the Evening: The symptoms are less noticeable during the day and more pronounced in the evening or at night, especially at the onset of sleep.
Involuntary Kicking Movements: RLS may be associated with another condition called periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) which causes one to involuntarily flex and extend legs while sleeping.
Heredity: RLS is found to run in families in up to 50 percent of patients, especially if the condition started at an early age.
Iron Deficiency: In case of a history of bleeding from the stomach or bowels, heavy menstrual periods or frequent donation of blood, one may have iron deficiency, which can cause or worsen RLS.
Chronic Diseases: Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathy are associated with RLS.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy or hormonal changes may temporarily worsen RLS signs and symptoms. Some pregnant women experience RLS, especially in their last trimester; this usually disappears within four weeks after delivery.
Medications: Certain medications such as anti-nausea drugs, anti-seizure drugs, anti-psychotic drugs, some cold and allergy medications, may aggravate symptoms.
Water Therapy/Warm Bath: Soak your legs in cold water (not ice water as it can cause severe damage to the nerves). For some people heating pads are more effective and soothing. You may also try to alternate hot and cold compresses – bathe the legs by starting with hot and ending up with cold water/ compress. Dipping or soaking the legs (upto the knees) in tolerably hot saline water (equal quantity of rock salt, Epsom salt and table salt) for ten minutes before going to bed may help relieve nervous tension and induce a relaxation response in the entire body.
Apple Cider Vinegar: Vinegar is more easily absorbed through skin than through the stomach; application of apple cider vinegar helps in relieving the unpleasant sensations in the legs, aids in detoxification, and prevents muscle fatigue. The benefits of apple cider vinegar have been proclaimed by ancient Egyptians and it has been traditionally used by them to treat ailments of all kinds. In fact, they believed apple cider acted as a tonic in improving the circulation and flow of blood.
Massage: A regular massage of the entire legs with a mixture of mustard oil and garlic helps to alleviate pain and stress. To prepare the garlic-infused oil, take around four tablespoons of mustard oil and one clove of garlic. Finely chop or crush the garlic clove. Heat the oil over medium flame and add garlic to it. Allow the garlic to burn until it becomes crisp and floats over the oil. Now the oil is ready. Allow it to cool and then add a half teaspoon of table salt to it. Bottle it in a glass container for two to three days to allow the salt to naturally dissolve at room temperature. Now the oil is ready to use for massage. Apply it on the legs and massage with light strokes before going to bed. Care should be taken as mustard oil may soil the clothes and garlic has a strong aroma.
Acupressure: Use an acupressure foot roller and roll your feet over it whenever you experience unpleasant sensations or do it as a daily regimen for five to seven minutes in the morning and evening to improve and boost blood circulation and nerve impulses. Walking on acupressure mats or pebbled pathways for a few minutes everyday may also help in alleviating symptoms.
Ayurveda: Knowing your Mind-Body constitution (Prakruti and Vikruti) may help in analyzing the triggers in your diet and lifestyle. Knowing your body type will help in following a regimen which helps maintain the balance of Doshas and reduces the imbalance.
Yoga: Practice of asanas like Paschimottanasana (Forward Bending pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face pose), Vajrasana (Hero pose), Vistritapadasana (Spread leg pose), Parsvakonasana (Sideways stretch), Tadasasana (Stick pose), and Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) helps in stretching the muscles, ligaments and tendons; relieves the muscular and nervous tension; and improves blood circulation in the legs.
Breathing: A regular practice of Nadi Shodhan (Alternate Nostril breathing without retention of breath) post the practice of Kapalbhati Kriya (Shining Forehead breath) invigorates and balances the mind and body.
Aromatherapy: Massage your legs with three to four drops of lavender oil before sleeping.
Wooden Sandals: Walking for five to ten minutes daily on ancient wooden sandals known as khadoun, helps in relieving pain by activating a marma point known as Kshipra, between the big toe and the first toe. The wooden nodes are strategically placed to correspond to traditional reflexology points.
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing any or several of the symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about whether you have RLS. You must verify with your physician before applying this article’s suggestions to your individual situation.