There is no cure for Restless Legs Syndrome
I have to be honest.
This post will not tell you about a miracle cure for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), or how you can achieve quality sleep every night.
I’ve suffered (and those of you with RLS will sympathize) with RLS for most of my adult life. I’ve tried prescription medications, supplements, elimination diets, exercise and even acupuncture in my quest for relief.
Nothing works perfectly.
But through trial and error I’ve found a routine that works for me, and maybe parts of it will work for others.
Restless Legs Syndrome isn’t really well understood, but it’s a disorder that affects the action of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, on nerve and muscle cells.
Magnesium helps muscles relax, and small studies have shown magnesium to be effective in treating mild to moderate RLS symptoms.
I take a 250 mg of magnesium oxide every night, about one hour before bedtime.
Another form of magnesium I use is Calm, a flavored drink powder. It contains magnesium citrate, which is absorbed better than magnesium oxide. And because it’s a powder form, it’s easier to tinker with the dose.
There are a lot of topical forms of magnesium—creams, oils and sprays—but little evidence that enough magnesium is absorbed through the skin to have any benefit.
Soaking in Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) may increase magnesium levels, but it hasn’t worked for me and I find baths to be time consuming and boring.
⚠Don’t start taking magnesium or other supplements if you have chronic health problems and are taking other medications. Check with you physician first!
My RLS symptoms really improved when I began a stretching program every night before bed. Like the magnesium, I think the stretching helps the muscles in my legs relax.
I hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds; 60 if I feel the muscles are tighter than usual. I’ve included links to one of my favorite YouTube physical therapists, Dr. Jo, to demonstrate the stretches I use.
- Iliotibial band (ITB) stretch
- Calf stretch with resistance band
- Hamstring stretch with resistance band
- Piriformis “figure 4” stretch
- Quadriceps stretch
- Hip flexor stretch
I also use a foam roller to massage tight muscle groups.
Yoga is another great way to incorporate stretching into a nightly routine. One pose I especially like is “Legs up the wall.”
I can’t control the RLS, but I can control other things that interfere with my sleep.
- I limit my caffeine to two cups of coffee first thing in the morning.
- I don’t drink alcohol or eat high-carb foods just before bedtime.
- I keep my bedroom as cool as possible (my husband needs extra blankets).
- I don’t have a TV in the bedroom and avoid electronic devices (blue light) before bed.
By the way, two over-the-counter drugs that are often used for sleep can actually make RLS symptoms worse: melatonin and antihistamines. Avoid them!
Other treatments I’ve tried
The dopamine agonists pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip) are usually the first medications many physicians will prescribe to treat RLS. I tried Mirapex back when it was new and still really, really expensive. It worked—for awhile. I suffered from the common side effect of “augmentation,” where RLS symptoms become more severe. I wasn’t going to pay hundreds of dollars to feel worse.
There is a new drug for RLS on the market: Horizant, an extended-release form of gabapentin. Gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication that is used off-label for lots of other conditions, such as neuropathy and hot flashes. The generic is very cheap. Horizant, however, is not. Its average retail price is $489.98 for a monthly supply. 😲
When western medicine failed me, I turned to acupuncture. Although there is little evidence in the literature to support it, I actually thought it worked. Probably because the needles released tension in the tiny muscles fibers and made them relax. However, the benefit only lasted one week before I needed another treatment. My insurance didn’t cover acupuncture, which cost about $75 per treatment, and my legs were covered in bruises. Overall, it just wasn’t a sustainable treatment method for me.
If you suffer from RLS you have my deepest sympathies! It’s rough never being able to get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve accepted that I will never experience a truly refreshing night’s sleep, but I can aim for good enough.
What works for you? I’d be interested in hearing what others have tried and found to be helpful. Or not.
Products that help me live with Restless Legs Syndrome: