Effective Ways to Press Pause on Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome gives rise to involuntary movement. Treatment can help improve your ability to function optimally on a daily basis.

Woman lying on a bed and resting her left hand on her forehead

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a rather strange, physical disorder. It only comes about during the latter part of the day, thus making it difficult for a person to fall asleep. It’s a syndrome that provokes an urge to constantly move your legs, and it occurs when a person is lying down in bed or sitting for a long duration.

Here are the causes and symptoms of this syndrome, and ways to keep your feet from dancing uncontrollably throughout the night.

Woman crouching and holding her head in her hands next to a window
Depression is a common risk factor of restless leg syndrome.

The Different Factors Associated with Restless Leg Syndrome 

People of all ages, including children, can develop RLS (also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease). However, the risk of RLS can increase significantly with age. The syndrome has also been found to be more common in women than in men.

A large number of people with RLS (92%) have a first-degree relative diagnosed with the syndrome. Interestingly, they are likely to develop symptoms before age 45 compared to people without genetic linkage. 

In addition, the onset of RLS also relates to other medical conditions, such as: 

  • Depression 
  • Diabetes 
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Iron deficiency 
  • Spinal cord conditions 
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Kidney disease 
  • Parkinson’s disease 
  • Peripheral neuropathy 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 

Separately, the prevalence of RLS during pregnancy is two to three times higher than in normal people. It can be attributed to hormonal changes and reduced levels of iron and folate in the body. People undergoing dialysis or using antidepressants, allergy drugs or anti-nausea medications can also be susceptible to the syndrome. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can also make symptoms worse. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) defines RLS as the formation and accumulation of pathogenic factors. “Wind, Cold, Heat, Dampness and Blood Stasis can arise within different segments of the six meridian channels that run along the legs. It’ll disrupt blood and qi (vital life force) circulation within the muscles, sinews and bones,” explains Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew.

2 Notable Signs of Restless Leg Syndrome 

Apart from the temptation to shake your legs, RLS can be accompanied by physical discomfort and poor work performance.

Limb discomfort 

An uncomfortable feeling in the arms or legs can present as a creeping, itching, pulling, crawling, tugging, throbbing, burning or gnawing sensation. It usually happens around bedtime but may also transpire during periods of limb inactivity.

Sleep disruption 

A person with RLS requires more time than the average person to fall asleep. It stems from a desire to alleviate the discomfort by moving or stretching their limbs. Hence, a decline in sleep quality may result in daytime sleepiness and influence rational thinking. For instance, a person will experience moodiness and irritability, and struggle to concentrate at work. 

Taking Steps to Have Better Control Over Restless Leg Syndrome 

A clinical physician will diagnose the syndrome after observing your symptoms. They may also choose to perform complete physical and neurological examinations after reviewing your medical history. In doing so, they’ll be able to rule out other health disorders. An overnight sleep study may also be ordered if you exhibit signs of obstructive sleep apnoea. 

Making lifestyle modifications 

Changes to a person’s daily routine may be proposed if they only have mild RLS symptoms. These include: 

  • Practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Engaging in regular, aerobic exercises 
  • Limiting or avoiding caffeinated beverages 
  • Managing stress through healthy, relaxing habits 
  • Applying a heating pad or cold compress to the leg 

Use medications and herbal formulas 

Frequent and severe RLS, on the other hand, can be treated with prescription medications. Dopamine agonists are particularly effective for easing sensory symptoms in the legs, and suppressing involuntary movement and leg jerks during sleep.

Anti-seizure medications can slow pain signals from leg nerves, and are especially beneficial for RLS due to neuropathy. Neuropathy refers to damage or dysfunction to one or more nerves.

Likewise, herbal formulas can be consumed to address the imbalances that induce RLS. Specifically, each recommended formula has the ability to dissipate and dispel pathogen combinations, and enhance blood and qi circulation within the meridians of the legs. Examples of these are: 

  • yi yi ren tang (薏苡仁汤) 
  • xuan bi tang (宣痹汤) 
  • shen tong zhu yu tang (身痛逐瘀汤) 
  • dang gui nian tong tang (当归拈痛汤) 
  • jing fang si wu tang (荆防四物汤) 
  • huang qi gui zhi wu wu tang (黄芪桂枝五物汤) 

Du huo ji sheng tang (独活寄生) possesses similar abilities to the other suggested formulas, but also has the ability to regenerate yang (active energy) within the leg meridians.  

“Please always bear in mind that the herbal formulas provided are only meant for varying syndromes or subsets of RLS. Each of them is characterised by different pathological combinations. One is strongly advised not to self-medicate without first undergoing thorough consultation with a licensed TCM practitioner, who will assess your unique body constitution and medical condition, and advise you accordingly,” cautions Real Health Medical Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew.

3D illustrations of the feng chi, zu san li and tai xi acupoints.
Acupoints like feng chi, zu san li and tai xi can help to calm restless leg syndrome.

Stimulate acupressure points 

Applying a feasible amount of pressure on certain acupressure points to elicit numbness or a sore sensation. At the same time, massage these points in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise circular motion 20 times. Repeat for a minimum of three minutes per point.

This helps dispel pathogenic factors to restore and enhance blood, qi and fluid circulation within the meridians. It also eases tension in the muscles and sinews for greater comfort. Some of the points that can help are

  • feng chi (GB20, 風池) 
  • tai xi (KI3, 太谿) 
  • yin gu (KI10, 陰谷) 
  • yin ling quan (SP9, 陰陵泉) 
  • bi guan (ST31, 髀關)
  • zu san li (ST36, 足三里) 

“Take note that acupressure only provides mild symptomatic relief for RLS. It is thus strongly recommended to seek professional help with a licensed TCM practitioner, in conjunction with the medical doctor, especially if the symptoms persist and are so severe that they affect the ability to function daily,” adds physician Yew. 

Ultimately, achieving control over restless leg syndrome starts with understanding its triggers. Speaking to a clinical physician and TCM practitioner will help you treat the disorder holistically. It’ll also help avoid complications arising from undesirable drug-herb interactions.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Restless Legs Syndrome. [online] [Accessed 11 March 2022] 
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2014. Restless legs syndrome and pregnancy: A review. [online][Accessed 11 March 2022] 

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