Restless legs syndrome (or Ekbom’s syndrome) was once thought to be psychosomatic and there are still a few professionals around who don’t take the frustrating and painful symptoms seriously enough.
The symptoms of restless legs (or RLS) have been described as a pins and needles, tingling, tickling, itching, boiling or crawling sensation in the legs (and sometimes the arms, torso and feet). This may be accompanied by aches, cramps, numbness, weakness, running pains and involuntary jerks of the legs.
The condition often gets worse when the person is at rest and there is an irresistible urge to move the legs which may alleviate the sensation temporarily. As you can imagine, this means that the RLS sufferer has great difficulty in getting to and staying asleep. The ensuing tiredness the next day often makes the RLS symptoms worse and a vicious cycle begins.
The poor quality and quantity of sleep affects concentration and performance during the day and can lead to depression. RLS can have a deep impact on relationships too as the sufferer’s legs may keep thrashing around as they sleep making sharing a bed with a partner difficult.
Sufferers find it hard to sit still for any period of time and this impacts their ability to work (if this involves, for example, sitting at a desk) and their social life (theatre, cinema, coach trips etc).
RLS is quite common with about 5 to 15 per cent of the population affected. Women seem to be affected more than men and it is more likely to affect people over the age of 45 although younger people can suffer from it. It shouldn’t be confused with growing pains in children and adolescents.
It may disappear for long periods only to reappear later on, for example, following a pregnancy or the menopause. RLS is associated with other conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, some drugs (eg, antidepressants), kidney problems, diabetes, Parkinson’s, anaemia and pregnancy.
The cause of RLS is unknown although, because it can run in families, it may be genetic. Research suggests that the central nervous system and spinal cord may be involved in RLS as well as problems with chemical messengers in the brain and the metabolic system. Until we know the cause of RLS, it’s difficult to find treatments that are effective for everybody.
If you suspect that you may have RLS then it’s very important to go to your GP for a diagnosis as these symptoms can be associated with other conditions. There is a range of prescription drugs that your GP can prescribe for RLS although these aren’t helpful or appropriate for everybody.
I’d strongly recommend joining the Ekbom Support Group and getting in touch with people experiencing RLS. Sharing your experience and learning what others have tried in similar situations will help you feel that you are not alone in this and you may learn some remedies that work for you.
Alleviating the symptoms of RLS
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Make your bedroom a place that encourages sleep: cool, quite and calming
- Include regular periods of activity during the day but several hours before you go to bed.
- Have a morning routine that includes a series of gentle stretches.
- Ensure there is enough iron in your diet (iron rich foods include red meats, pumpkin seeds, sesame, soy flour, millet, poppy seeds, pine nuts, wheat germ, oats, dill, parsley, yeast, spinach, watercress, lentils, soybeans and white beans).
- Some sufferers report that wearing special packs with magnets on their legs help.
- Try professional therapeutic massage.
- The Ekbom Support Group recommends massaging and stretching legs whilst in cool water.
- Seek help in learning stress management techniques (eg, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga etc)
- Wear light, comfortable clothing and avoid man-made fibres that are prone to becoming static (eg nylon).
I’d also suggest keeping a diary of when your RLS gets worse or better, your diet, how stressed you were, how much exercise you did, and what remedy you trying to see if there are any patterns that can help you understand what aggravates and what alleviates your RLS.
Constant movement can aggravate joint pain and RLS sufferers should not neglect their joint health. Your local Chiropractically trained Osteomyologist will be able to assess your joint functioning and offer advice on supplements and how to minimise the wear and tear on joints that causes painful problems later on.