What is restless leg syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome is often considered to be a condition of the nervous system. It’s associated with an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Sufferers often describe the urge as a creeping sensation that begins in the feet, calves and thighs. Sometimes its accompanied by involuntary jerks, numbness and pins and needles. Most often it gets worse at night.
As a result, it can interrupt sleep patterns. The key diagnostic features include the presence of three symptoms, the overwhelming urge to move the legs which occurs typically in the evenings, is worse at rest and improves from movement.
Primary restless leg syndrome is known as an idiopathic condition. This means that there isn’t a direct cause. Around 40% of primary RLS sufferers have a family history of the condition. Genetics are thought to play a role and it may be a heredity condition. It’s also twice as likely to affect women and is frequently experienced during pregnancy.
Top tip: Listen to this podcast on restless leg syndrome.
What triggers restless leg syndrome?
There are some common triggers associated with this condition. Factors such as poor circulation, lack of exercise, certain nutritional deficiencies including lack of iron and magnesium, and pregnancy can all play a role. Here are a few other triggers and issues that may worsen your symptoms.
Dopamine imbalance: Research is starting to show that some forms of restless leg syndrome could be related to a dysfunction with the basal ganglia. This is a structure in the brain that is responsible for involuntary body movements. When this part of the brain is affected, it changes how much dopamine is produced.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that can help to control muscle movement and coordination. Usually, dopamine levels are lower in the evenings, which may explain why symptoms are worse before bedtime.
Fibromyalgia: As many as 64% of people with fibromyalgia also report having restless leg syndrome. Although the underlying connection between the conditions is still unknown, it’s believed that they may both share similar mechanisms in the nervous system and brain.
Stress: Stress might not directly cause restless leg syndrome, but it may worsen symptoms by heightening your awareness of them. This instigates a stress reaction that may further prevent you from getting to sleep.
Substances: Similarly, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can aggravate symptoms, disrupting your sleep and worsening sleep deprivation.
Medications: Certain medications such as antidepressants, lithium and antihistamines have sometimes been known to make restless leg syndrome symptoms worse.
Tip 1: Mindful stretching exercises
Experts aren’t exactly sure how stretching helps restless leg syndrome, but the evidence seems to be positive. One eight-week study found that mindful stretching helped to reduce symptoms, improve mood and lower stress levels.
Some experts speculate that mindful stretching is able to reduce the symptoms so well because it encourages relaxation, helping to soothe the nervous system, which may then positively influence symptoms.
Stretch out restless leg syndrome with yoga.
Tip 2: Keep your mind active
When restless legs strike, it can be easy to become fixated on the symptoms. The more you want your legs to keep still, the more they continue to jerk and twitch. That’s why, instead of becoming more and more stressed, it might be an idea to try and keep your mind occupied.
Avoid reaching for your cell phone or turning on your laptop or the TV. If you need to, get up and walk around, read a book, or do a puzzle. Anything that keeps your attention away from the sensations in your legs, providing that it’s a relatively relaxed activity that isn’t too stimulating.
Top tip: Listen to this podcast on how to get a good night’s sleep naturally.
Tip 3: Soothing heat
When it comes to soothing your muscles, a soak in a hot bath is also reported to work a treat. This helps to relax your muscles and is a good way of helping you to unwind before bedtime. For the best results, try adding some Epsom salts to your bath. These contain magnesium which can help to soothe your muscles.
Tip 4: Cold compress
If you don’t fancy heating things up, you could try cooling them down. Cold treatments in the form of a compress helps to numb aches and pains and can even slow down nerve impulses. This may help to prevent spasms or twitching. Be careful when using this method. Make sure you’re not applying the cold compress for too long – 20 minutes should suffice. Never apply a compress directly to an open wound.
Tip 5: Avoid exercising too close to bedtime
If you have restless legs, exercising regularly during the day can be a great help, especially if you suffer from circulatory problems such as varicose veins. A little brisk movement can help to get the blood pumping around your body and can even release endorphins. These are the happy hormones that help to improve your mood.
One study in 2006 found that aerobic exercise three times a week, might significantly reduce restless leg syndrome symptoms. However, while exercising during the day is fine, hitting the gym just before bedtime might not be the best idea.
Over-exercising and working-out too close to bedtime might worsen your symptoms by making you more aware of any discomfort or spasms and may potentially make it harder to fall asleep.
Tip 6: Cut down on caffeine
Caffeine acts as a stimulant in the body and is well-known for interacting with sleep. When it comes to restless legs, caffeine can also increase other neurotransmitters in the brain, like norepinephrine, which can promote restlessness and hyperactivity. This is not what you want if you suffer from restless legs.
While most people are aware of caffeine’s influence, they don’t always understand how long the effects of caffeine can linger. It can sometimes take as long as six hours for caffeine to leave your system. It can sometimes take longer depending on whether you are taking certain medications, like the contraceptive pill.
That is why, if you drink tea or coffee, we recommend mornings only. As tempting as it might be, try to resist having a brew in the afternoon. Instead, opt for caffeine-free herbal teas or coffee substitutes such as A.Vogel Bambu which contains a rich blend of Turkish figs and chicory, helping to refresh and revitalise without upsetting your nervous system.
Tip 7: Massage your legs
Research suggests that massaging your legs might relieve some of the symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome. A case study conducted in 2007 found that 45-minute massages twice a week improved the symptoms significantly.
This is likely due to the stimulating effect that massages have on your circulation. Perhaps it’s also because massaging increases your dopamine levels. Either way, it gives you an excuse for a little extra pampering. We recommend making an appointment soon.
Tip 8: Acupuncture
Acupuncture? As in that thing where they stick needles into your skin? You’re probably thinking ‘no thanks!’. Acupuncture has proven its ability to help treat a range of conditions. Research is on acupuncture’s side. One 2015 study found that participants with restless leg syndrome who had received acupuncture treatment showed reduced abnormal leg activity.
Tip 9: Watch what you eat
What you eat might have an impact on your restless leg syndrome symptoms. For a start, we know that nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of iron and magnesium, can act as triggers for the condition. We recommend eating more foods rich in these minerals such as almonds, avocados, cashews, lentils, pulses, spinach, and wholegrains.
Once you’ve addressed your intake of these pivotal nutrients, it might be time to consider the foods that you should be avoiding. We’ve already addressed the effects of caffeine on your nervous system, but other foods that are high in sugar or processed fats should also be restricted. These affect your circulation and nervous systems and can also influence your waistline. Obesity is a leading cause of restless leg syndrome.
It may not have a direct impact, but staying hydrated is extremely important too. Dehydration can affect your sleep patterns and will make you feel more fatigued during the day. Water is the miracle elixir of life. Try to consume at least two litres of good quality filtered water throughout the day. Fizzy drinks and fresh fruit juices don’t count.
Tip 10: Consider the following natural supplements
- Bio-Strath – This daily nutritional supplement is a 100% natural, Swiss plasmolysed herbal yeast supplement containing 61 essential nutrients (11 vitamins, 19 minerals, 20 amino acids and 11 building substances) in a highly bioavailable format with 39 scientific studies and publications confirming its effectiveness over a period of more than 50 years. Bio-Strath is also scientifically proven to improve micronutrient bioavailability and significantly improve the absorption of iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B1. Bio-Strath enhances the absorption of iron by five times and improves the absorption of magnesium by six times. This is particularly important if restless legs syndrome is related to a deficiency in these minerals. Iron is known to be difficult to absorb.
- A.Vogel Circulation Formula – For the supportive treatment of poor peripheral circulation. Ingredients address spasm of smooth muscles in vessel walls and promote peripheral circulation. Specifically indicated for cold, pale, blue and numb extremities (e.g., Raynaud’s phenomenon) or stagnation of blood flow and swelling or heaviness linked to poor circulation.
- A.Vogel Dormeasan – A Western Herbal formulation for the relief of sleep disturbances, stress, and anxiety. Ingredients support the nervous system by having a calming action and address symptoms such as restlessness and anxiety and when taken at bedtime promotes restful sleep. A.Vogel Dormeasan is made from fresh, organic Valerian root and Hops, is non-habit forming and will not cause grogginess on waking the next morning.
- A.Vogel Multiforce – This is a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as citrate and bicarbonate salts (alkalising minerals) and has a systemic alkalinising effect. It supports the body’s acid buffering mechanism by supplying essential alkaline minerals required to combat a typical acidogenic diet (high in animal protein and low/deficient in fruit, vegetables, and minerals) and lifestyle, thereby assisting in addressing the negative consequences thereof. Multiforce is also a valuable source of bioavailable magnesium citrate which may help with restless legs.
- A.Vogel Nervousness Insomnia Formula – A homeopathic medicine for the supportive treatment of nervousness, nervous exhaustion and sleeplessness. In accordance with homeopathic literature, ingredients address symptoms such as restlessness, tension, anxiety, and nervous exhaustion which can lead to sleep problems.
- A.Vogel VegOmega-3 – These capsules are a source of the Omega-3 essential fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which are essential for the maintenance of good health and must be included in the diet as the body does not produce them. They are non-GMO and gluten-free.
- A.Vogel Venaforce Forte – A Western herbal remedy used for the treatment and relief of symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. Indicated for the following consequences of venous insufficiency: tired, heavy, aching, and painful legs, swollen legs, restless legs, cramping and sensation of tension in the legs and unsightly veins.
If you’d like any further information, feel free to get in touch with the Living Naturally team on our helpline – Tel: +27(0)31-783-8000, Mondays to Fridays between 09:00 – 16:00.
A similar article also appeared on A.Vogel.co.uk.
Listen to the podcast here: Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
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