Restless leg syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in a person’s legs. There are many remedies, lifestyle changes, and medications that can help people to manage their symptoms.
The symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) can be mild to severe. In extreme cases, RLS may significantly disrupt a person’s day-to-day life.
This article outlines some lifestyle tips and medications that may help a person to manage the disorder and reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms. We also describe what RLS is, including its symptoms, causes, and triggers.
The following tips may help to provide immediate relief from RLS symptoms, although such relief may only be temporary:
- moving the legs by walking around the house, or engaging in other forms of physical activity
- performing gentle calf stretches
- gently rubbing or massaging the legs
- wearing compression socks or leg wraps that apply gentle and consistent pressure to the legs
- applying hot or cold compresses to the legs
- taking a hot bath to relax the leg muscles
People who experience severe or frequent RLS may require treatments that offer more long-term relief. Such treatments may include lifestyle changes, medications, supplements, or a combination of all three.
Below are some lifestyle tips that may help a person to find longer-term relief from RLS symptoms:
People with RLS should avoid stimulants, particularly in the evening, when RLS tends to be more severe. Examples of stimulants include:
Developing and maintaining good sleep habits
People with RLS may benefit from a regular sleep routine that involves the following:
- going to bed and waking up at the same time each day
- avoiding daytime napping
- taking time to relax before bed
- avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bedtime
Staying active throughout the day
Long periods of sitting or lying down may trigger symptoms of RLS. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, doctors recommend that people with RLS perform moderate exercise throughout the day to keep RLS symptoms at bay.
However, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom note that people should avoid exercising close to bedtime, as this could make RLS symptoms worse.
Performing regular calf stretches
Stretching the calf muscle may help to prevent or alleviate cramping sensations associated with RLS.
Below are some steps for performing a calf stretch:
- Stand facing a wall, with one foot in front of the other, and both heels flat against the floor.
- Lean towards the wall, keeping the back leg straight, and keeping both heels flat against the floor. A person should be able to feel a strong pull down the calf of their back leg.
- Hold the position for 20–30 seconds.
- Repeat the exercise three times on each leg.
Discussing a change of medication
Some people take medications that can trigger or exacerbate RLS symptoms. If this is the case, a person should ask their doctor if it is possible to change the dosage or change the medication altogether.
People should not stop taking any medications unless their doctor tells them to.
There is currently no cure for RLS. However, certain medications and supplements can help a person to manage the condition and reduce the severity and frequency of their symptoms. Examples include:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recommend iron supplements as a first-line treatment for people with RLS who are deficient in iron.
However, for some people, oral iron supplements do not increase levels of iron in the blood. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a person may need intravenous (IV) iron to help increase their iron levels.
These drugs can help to alleviate nerve pain and sensations of creeping and crawling. According to the NINDS, doctors are beginning to prescribe anti-seizure drugs as the first-line prescription treatment for RLS.
Some examples include:
Dopaminergic agents (DAs)
These drugs increase levels of dopamine in the brain. They appear to reduce RLS symptoms in people who take them at night. However, persistent use of DAs can lead to a worsening of RLS symptoms in some people, according to the NINDS.
Some examples of DAs include:
These drugs help to control pain. A doctor may prescribe one of the following opioids for a person with severe RLS that has not responded to other medications:
Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative medication. A doctor may prescribe a benzodiazepine to help a person with RLS achieve more restful sleep.
Treatments for underlying health conditions
Many health conditions may cause RLS. Treating these conditions may help to reduce the severity and frequency of RLS symptoms.
A person who experiences RLS should see a doctor to determine whether there is an underlying cause and to receive any necessary treatments.
RLS is a nervous system disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs. These sensations lead to an overwhelming urge to move the legs.
Some sensations that a person may feel in their legs include:
The symptoms of RLS may range from mild to severe. They can occur at any time of day, but they are often most noticeable in the later afternoon or evening. According to the NINDS, symptoms typically worsen at night when a person is sitting or lying in bed.
Some people with RLS experience symptoms only occasionally. Others experience symptoms daily.
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The NINDS indicate that there are no identifiable causes of a person’s RLS. However, scientists have established that certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
These factors include:
- having a relative who has RLS
- iron deficiency
- disruption of a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which controls movement
- disruption of the brain chemical dopamine, which is necessary for producing smooth, purposeful muscle movements
- Parkinson’s disease, which affects dopamine pathways in the brain
- nerve damage or neuropathy
- late-stage kidney disease and hemodialysis
In addition, the following factors may trigger episodes of RLS in some people:
- pregnancy, particularly the third trimester of pregnancy
- use of caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine
- use of certain medications, including:
RLS is a nervous system disorder that causes leg discomfort and an overwhelming urge to move the legs. For some, the symptoms may be mild and relatively manageable. For others, the symptoms may be severe and highly disruptive.
Certain lifestyle changes can help a person to manage the symptoms of RLS. These include:
- avoiding stimulants
- developing and maintaining good sleep habits
- being physically active throughout the day
In some cases, a person may also require medications to help manage their RLS.
Sometimes, RLS is the result of an underlying health condition. As a result, a person who experiences RLS should visit their doctor to determine whether there is an underlying cause. Treating the cause will often help to reduce the severity and frequency of the symptoms.