7 Best Natural Treatments For Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome affects an estimated 10% of all adults in the U.S.
Characterized by a strong urge to move one’s legs while at rest along with feelings of discomfort, restless leg syndrome is one of the most common sleep disorders. Although it affects a wide range of people from different age groups, most patients with restless leg syndrome are female and began experiencing their first symptoms before the age of 20.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) often leads to exhaustion and sleep deprivation; both of which affect work performance, mood, concentration, and lead to adverse health effects such as a weakened immune system, depression, and weight gain. Many people that suffer from the disorder report having trouble focusing on work and completing regular tasks.
That being said, RLS (also called Willis-Ekbom Disease) can be controlled and treated effectively. In most cases, effective treatment does not require the use of medications. In this article, you will learn some ways to naturally remedy restless leg syndrome without the use of pills, drugs, or medications.
What causes restless leg syndrome?
Currently, it’s not fully understood where restless leg syndrome comes from. However, it is suspected that genes play a key role in its emergence; about 50% of people with the disorder also have a family member that’s affected by it.
Other medical conditions have been known to sometimes trigger the emergence of the sleep disorder. These medical conditions make it more probable that a person develops restless leg syndrome:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Kidney problems
- Sleep apnea
Additionally, medication such as antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and antihistamines have been known to worsen the condition.
RLS can also be developed as a result of pregnancy. Generally, this occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy. However, in pregnancy-induced RLS, the symptoms go away a few weeks after the pregnancy is over.
How to treat restless leg syndrome?
Currently, no cure exists for restless leg syndrome. Treatment is focused on targeting the symptoms and finding effective ways to relieve the discomfort and reduce the undesirable sensations. The exceptions are the cases where RLS was caused by an underlying disease such as anemia or diabetes. In those situations, the best course of action generally involves treating the underlying condition.
Although restless leg syndrome can be difficult condition to deal with, there are ways to treat the disorder. Some methods focus on treating the disorder’s symptoms and others focus on making certain lifestyle changes to help decrease the number and intensity of incidents.
One of the most effective and recommended ways to treat RLS is by combining natural remedies with lifestyle changes. Though you might find relief from using some of the following remedies individually, it’s recommended to try a few in tandem with each other for maximum effectiveness.
7 Natural Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome
1. Increase magnesium levels
Magnesium helps relieve cramps, muscle throbbing, and soreness. It’s a key nutrient that helps muscles relax and lose some accumulated tension. Despite all these benefits, in the U.S. more than half of the total population fails to consume as much magnesium as recommended.
In patients with RLS, magnesium has been shown to be a great source of relief and comfort. One study showed that magnesium helped ameliorate the symptoms of RLS related insomnia. Some research even goes so far as to claim that a lack of magnesium may be to blame for the initial appearance of restless leg syndrome.
Why are proper levels of magnesium important?
Failing to consume the necessary amounts of magnesium can cause instabilities in the nervous system. Neurons and cells in the nervous system become excited more easily. As you can imagine, this directly translates into more/higher intensity restless leg syndrome episodes.
According to the National Institute of Health, adult men should try to consume 400 to 420 mg of magnesium a day, while adult women should aim for 310 to 320 mg.
Maintaining the right amount of magnesium helps fight cramps, maintain heart health, control blood sugar levels, and prevent nervous system maladies. Having effects similar to a depressant, it also helps reduce some of the fatigue induced by physical activity.
How can I consume more magnesium?
One reason why magnesium is such a big deficiency in the U.S. is that our body needs a lot of it relative to what we might find in the foods most of us eat on a regular basis. Because it’s often not clear which foods have more magnesium than others, I’ve provided a list of some of the highest magnesium containing foods below:
In addition to magnesium obtained from a proper diet, consuming magnesium supplements can help fill in the gaps. Magnesium malate is often cited as the best type of magnesium to consume for people suffering from restless leg syndrome.
Another effective way to obtain the right amount of magnesium is by spraying an aqueous magnesium solution directly to the legs. The magnesium is absorbed through the skin and quickly goes to the places that might be most affected by restless leg syndrome.
2. Consume more iron
Since the 1950’s, it has been known that higher iron body levels strongly correlate with lower severity of restless leg syndrome. Dopamine levels seem to be affected the most by iron deficiency, which helps explain why iron deficiency is linked to higher incidences of RLS.
In addition to its role in maintaining dopamine levels, iron is a key mineral because it is a cofactor for hemoglobin that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Lower iron levels can signify decreased oxygen flow through the body and might lead to fatigue and less energy for physical activity.
Studies have shown that a brain iron insufficiency tends to be present in patients with restless leg syndrome. Increasing iron levels can help produce the necessary levels of dopamine to prevent the lack of muscle control and restlessness that occur during episodes of restless leg syndrome.
How do I consume more iron?
Obtaining nutrients and vitamins from food, as opposed to from supplements or other sources, has the benefit of providing higher absorption of these nutrients and presenting your body with other necessary minerals to balance them out. It’s recommended to alter the diet to consume more iron containing foods in order to increase iron levels in the body.
The following is a list of some of the most common iron-rich foods around:
If you don’t wish to change your dieting habits, oral iron supplementations are also an option. According to this study, oral iron supplementation lead to an increase in body iron levels and in the severity of restless leg syndrome as indicated by a baseline International Restless Leg Syndrome Scale (IRLS).
Keep in mind that there is such as thing as having too much iron in your body. Though by and large, this is not a concern for people that get their iron from diets, for those wanting to supplement with iron it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor if you feel this might be an issue.
3. Take some valerian root
The Valerian plant is a herb that originates from Europe and North Asia. It’s been used for thousands of years by different civilizations for its medicinal and fragrant properties.
Valerian root comes from the bottom part of the Valerian herb. It has a chemical composition rich in oils, amino acids, alkaloids and more. Valerian root is commonly used for its abilities to improve sleep quality.
In addition to allowing for better sleep quality, it has been known to remedy symptoms of RLS. This study found evidence that valerian reduces symptoms of restless leg syndrome and reduces daytime sleepiness in the people that used it compared to those that used the placebo. The clinical trial lasted 8 weeks and used a dosage of 800mg of Valerian.
Additionally, Valerian root is also a common natural remedy for insomnia. Its sedative properties help calm nerves and reduce the nervous system into a relaxed state, thus allowing for better sleep. It may be taken as a supplement or as a tea about 30 minutes before going to sleep at night. Some people find that combining it with honey makes for a peaceful nights sleep.
4. Perform a localized massage
Massaging the legs before sleeping can help reduce some of the discomfort and uncontrollable urges that tend to creep up at rest. It’s a safe and quick way to release dopamine and ease symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Not to mention, you have the convenience of being able to massage yourself whenever you feel the need.
How does massaging reduce RLS symptoms?
The biggest benefits of massaging for restless leg syndrome are two-fold. First, it stimulates the area affected by RLS, therefore allowing patients to find some relief from decreased urges to restart the involuntary movements.
The second benefit involves the generation of dopamine. As we’ve previously discussed, low dopamine levels are commonly associated with a worsening of restless leg syndrome symptoms. This study demonstrated a 31% increase in dopamine levels for patients that underwent massage therapy.
How to effectively massage the areas affected by RLS?
Unlike a full body massage, you can massage your legs yourself and find relief that’s just as good. The areas to focus on are the calves and hamstrings. Patients have reported that adding some heat to the massage provides additional relief.
Check out this video for some very effective RLS massaging techniques.
5. Try out Relaxis
Relaxis is the only FDA cleared non-prescription medication treatment for restless leg syndrome. It involves a special soft pad that is placed underneath your legs or most affected area. The pad starts vibrating to counteract the discomfort caused by an RLS episode. As you sink deeper into sleep, the pad vibrates more slowly.
Relaxis was cleared by the FDA back in 2013 after two separate clinical trials showed a marked improvement in symptoms of RLS patients. It’s a drug-free treatment option but it does require a prescription from your physician.
The cost of treatment may be covered by some insurances. They currently have a 30 day money-back guarantee trial period that you can take advantage off if you wish to try it out.
6. Take a warm bath with Epsom salts
Preparing a warm bath with Epsom salts and soaking your feet there for a few minutes is another way to help treat RLS. The magnesium from the Epsom salts will solubilize in the water, and as you spend more time soaked in the bath, the magnesium will start entering your legs and helping your muscles relax. The concept is similar to consuming magnesium supplements to help ameliorate symptoms.
That being said, some people find that warm temperature makes their symptoms worse. If you find this is the case for you, try using a water temperature that makes you more comfortable and using that for your Epsom salt bath.
Additionally, Epsom salts further help get quality sleep by decreasing stress levels and helping you feel more relaxed. It also has the benefits of reducing inflammation, improving nerve function, preventing artery hardening, and relieving muscle cramps and headaches.
7. Improve your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to all of the habits and practices that you can do on a regular basis to have the best sleep possible.
It includes everything from avoiding watching tv before going to sleep to skipping out on caffeine before bedtime.
In recent years, more and more triggers for poor sleep have been identified. Some of these include avoiding blue light, keeping your room temperature below 70F, and using your bed only for sleep and sex.
A common recommendation that doctors tend to give patients of restless leg syndrome is to maintain the best sleep hygiene possible so as to avoid the full brunt of the condition. To learn more about how to have good sleep hygiene, check out this infographic for the 10 best ways to sleep better and faster.
Bonus tips for RLS
In addition to the previous natural treatments, the following are some recommendations for reducing symptoms:
- Keep a journal of all of your triggers– The Sleepfoundation recommends keeping a journal to write down all of your triggers. Because of the neurological complexity of the condition, each patient can have unique triggers of their own. Writing these down in a journal will help you keep track of them and avoid them.
- Consider eliminating alcohol and smoking– One of the common triggers in practically all cases of RLS is that alcohol and smoking worsen symptoms. As a result, cutting down on heavy drinking and smoking will lead to some considerable relief.
- Decrease caffeine– Caffeine is another very common trigger for RLS. If you need to drink coffee, try to drink it only in the morning to avoid any secondary effects from the leftover caffeine in your body at night.
At times, battling restless leg syndrome may feel like attempting to shoot down a quickly moving target. The most important thing is to be resilient and not lose hope. Thankfully, there are many resources out there for people fighting this sleep disorder:
If you have any questions about the condition or would like to contribute any ideas to the post, please leave a comment below and I will reply as soon as possible.