Some 5 to 15 percent of the population suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS)—a condition that causes an uncomfortable urge to move the legs. Often, this urge goes hand in hand with unpleasant sensations in the legs such as crawling or tingling feelings, which get worse at night and with inactivity and are relieved by movement.
RLS can be caused by an underlying health condition such as kidney failure or iron deficiency anemia, as well as pregnancy, although most of the time there's no obvious cause.
If your case is severe, your doctor might recommend medication like a dopamine agonist or levodopa, but these can actually make symptoms worse.1 For mild cases, the usual advice is to keep up good sleep habits and avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking, but these steps rarely eliminate all symptoms.2
It's no surprise, then, that up to two-thirds of RLS sufferers regularly use alternative practices to get relief.3 Here are the best methods to try.
Address nutritional deficiencies
Even if you're not anemic, iron deficiency may be at the root of your RLS, so it's a good idea to get your levels checked. If your stores are low, iron supplements may help relieve symptoms.4
Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to RLS, and taking supplements to get levels up to normal can improve the severity of symptoms.5
Consult with a qualified practitioner who can test for deficiencies in these and other nutrients and recommend suitable supplement dosages to get you to optimum levels.
Supplement and see
The following nutrients may be worth taking in supplement form, whether you're deficient in them or not.
Magnesium. In a study of people suffering with insomnia related to RLS or the associated disorder periodic leg movements during sleep (PLMS), magnesium taken in the evening helped them sleep better.6
Suggested dosage: 300 mg/day (in the evening)
Vitamins C and E. These potent antioxidants proved useful for hemodialysis patients with RLS.7
Suggested daily dosage: 200 mg to 3 g vitamin C and 400 IU vitamin E
L-tryptophan. Some evidence suggests that this sleep-promoting supplement might help with RLS.8
Suggested dosage: 1-2 g/day (in the evening)
See the light
Several studies suggest that near-infrared light therapy can be a useful treatment for RLS. In one study, 12 half-hour light treatments to the lower legs over a four-week period significantly reduced symptoms compared to a control treatment.9 HealthLight is one company offering near-infrared light therapy devices—with clinical trials to back them up.10
They're available to buy via www.quantumworldvision.com or you can contact the company directly (www.healthlightllc.com) to find a clinic offering the therapy near you.
Regular moderate exercise appears to help with RLS. One trial found that a conditioning program of aerobic and lower-body resistance training three days per week improved symptoms.11 And several studies of exercise programs in hemodialysis patients with RLS have reported similar positive results.12 Avoid vigorous exercise and exercising close to your bedtime, though, as this may exacerbate symptoms.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a noninvasive technique that stimulates neurons in the cerebral cortex through the scalp safely and with minimal discomfort. One study found that it can "markedly alleviate the motor system symptoms, sleep disturbances, and anxiety in RLS patients."13 Various rTMS providers are available worldwide, such as Neurocare (www.neurocaregroup.com) and SmartTMS (www.smarttms.co.uk).
Make time for massage
Simply massaging the legs with lavender essential oil mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut oil can relieve RLS.14 Try taking a warm bath, then massaging your legs before you go to sleep.