Restless leg syndrome or RLS is usually taken for granted until it gets serious enough to warrant medical attention. RLS causes uncomfortable sensations such as crawling, tingling, or creeping feelings in the legs, and an overwhelming urge to move the affected limbs. These symptoms usually occur when sitting or sleeping, often at night, and can dramatically impact sleep quality.
Exercise can ease many symptoms, including those experienced by people with restless leg syndrome. Studies show that a regular regimen of physical activity can help lessen minor RLS symptoms. Aerobic exercise and resistance training for the lower body are some of the best practices to help minimize leg pain and improve sleep. It is important to exercise in moderation and only as much as the body can handle, however, as over-exertion may aggravate symptoms.
Hot and cold compresses have varied success in the treatment of restless leg syndrome. Moist heat is more effective than dry heat. Some people report success with hot or cold water soaks, or alternating between the two. This can help to relax the muscles and may last into the night, though the effect is usually temporary. This type of treatment could also work due to a placebo effect, but if it helps someone sleep, there's no harm in that. Unfortunately, most RLS treatments are hit or miss since scientists are still in the dark as to what causes restless leg syndrome.
Not only can yoga improve flexibility, but it can also boost mood and lessen stress, which could help improve sleep. Many doctors will prescribe this slow, fluid type of exercise to people with restless leg syndrome. Preliminary research finds that yoga and stretching have positive effects on RLS. People with the condition can try at least incorporating upper leg and calf stretches into their regular exercise routine.
Iron supplements can reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome. This treatment is believed to relate to the body's ferritin levels -- the amount of a certain protein that stores iron in the body and brain. Small preliminary studies show that supplemental magnesium, potassium, folate, or vitamin E supplements may help some people with restless leg syndrome, although larger studies are needed. Also, some studies show a correlation between restless leg syndrome and a low level of vitamin D. No supplements should be taken in excess, as this can result in toxicity or reduce the body's ability to utilize existing nutrients. A doctor can determine whether a person has nutritional deficiencies that might contribute to restless leg syndrome.
Leg massages could lessen RLS symptoms and don't necessarily require an expensive visit to a therapist. Though research is limited, a few studies support the benefits of this technique, specifically of massages that apply direct pressure to the leg muscles. According to research, massaging muscles causes an increase of dopamine, which is essential to central nervous system function. Massage also improves circulation and encourages relaxation.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help people with restless leg syndrome deal with anxiety proactively, by dealing directly with the issue rather than panicking or avoiding. The technique calls on individuals to accept their symptoms when they arise. Being prepared helps relax the body, which can make symptoms easier to manage both physically and mentally.
Since restless leg syndrome usually affects the lower extremities, footwraps or restiffics may help ease symptoms by placing pressure on specific points at the bottom of the foot. This pressure transmits messages to the brain that trigger instructions to relax the leg. Though pharmaceutical versions of these footwraps can be expensive, there is evidence that they reduce symptoms and restless leg syndrome and improve sleep quality.
Many people with restless leg syndrome also have anxiety, which could be either a side effect or a cause of the condition. Worry and questions about when the symptoms will arise can interrupt sleep and day-to-day life. Countering anxiety, which often goes hand in hand with muscle tension and stress, can help alleviate symptoms and RLS flare-ups. Some sources recommend keeping the mind busy by distracting it with crossword puzzles, card games, work, or even meaningful conversation.
A medical treatment that uses a sleeve placed over the leg -- pneumatic compression -- can ease symptoms of restless leg syndrome. It alternately inflates then deflates, squeezing then releasing the limb gently. Doctors use this device to enhance circulation and prevent blood clots. Low levels of oxygen in the limbs could cause RLS symptoms, and movement increases blood and oxygen circulation, which could be why people feel the urge to move their legs. Pneumatic compression can replicate these movements without waking or otherwise disrupting the individual.
In some cases, simply changing one's sleeping position or bed arrangement can improve symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Tightly tucked sheets at the foot of the bed can force the toes to point, which can cause cramping or contracting calf muscles. Keeping bedding loose allows the feet to rest in the most natural position. Propping the feet higher than the torso can also help.
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