Restless leg syndrome (RLS) affects about 15 percent of Americans, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. When RLS is a symptom of another medical problem, treating that condition will usually clear it up. RLS can also be a side effect of certain medications. If so, it goes away when you stop taking the medication.
The cause of RLS is not always clear. There are a variety of home remedies, but if they don’t work, your doctor can prescribe other treatments. It may take a few tries to determine the best remedy for you.
Heat and cold
One home remedy for RLS is the application of warm packs and cool packs to the muscles. Some people find that alternating heat and cold can ease the leg pain and achiness associated with RLS. You can also relax the muscles in your legs by soaking in a warm bath or whirlpool. Massage your lower legs, or ask someone to do it for you. This may be especially helpful just before you go to bed.
Perform some type of moderate exercise every day. Don’t overdo it with bursts of exercise, and don’t exercise late in the day. A brisk 30-minute walk is not just good for your legs, it’s good for your overall health. Leg stretches may also be particularly helpful for this condition.
Stress and muscle tension can trigger your RLS symptoms. Try to build in some relaxation time before going to bed. Meditation, tai chi, and yoga are good ways to relax the body and mind and reduce tension.
RLS interferes with sleep and causes fatigue. One way to break the cycle is to stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning.
Create a bedtime routine that involves doing something relaxing prior to getting into bed. For example, take a warm bath, read a book, or meditate. Think about your sleep environment, and consider removing digital clocks, electronics that glow, and anything work-related from your bedroom. Invest in comfortable linens and make your bedroom an oasis for rest and relaxation.
In some cases, deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin B may cause RLS. Before you increase your use of dietary supplements (or begin using them), talk to your doctor. Even OTC dietary supplements can react with medications.
In the case of vitamins, it’s certainly possible to get too much of a good thing. Blood tests can determine exactly what vitamins or minerals you’re lacking. Your doctor can prescribe the correct supplement and a safe dosage.
If you’re occasionally experiencing mild to moderate pain, you can use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that include:
Keep in mind that long-term use of NSAIDs can cause stomach upset, ulcers, bleeding, and increased potential for heart problems. Talk to your doctor about alternative forms of pain relief if your pain becomes chronic.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat seizures caused by epilepsy. In extended-release form, gabapentin can be effective in the treatment of severe RLS. In epilepsy, it works by lowering abnormal excitement in the brain. Researchers aren’t sure exactly how it works to relieve RLS symptoms. Potential side effects of this drug include:
- weight gain
- difficulty swallowing or breathing
- swelling of the face and throat
In severe cases of RLS, your doctor may recommend prescription medications to relieve pain. These medications can be habit-forming. Muscle relaxants and sleep aids may also help, but they don’t always relieve unpleasant leg sensations and can make you drowsy during the day.
Medications intended for other diseases like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, can also be helpful for RLS.
Work with your doctor to find the best medication. It may take a few tries or a combination of remedies to ease your symptoms.
If you have RLS, avoid sitting in one position for too long. Get up and move often throughout the day. Avoid foods and drinks that contain caffeine, like:
- soft drinks
Tobacco and alcoholic beverages can trigger RLS or make symptoms worse. Try not using these things for a few weeks to see if you feel better.
If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor before taking OTC medications or supplements. Your doctor will probably advise you to hold off on stronger prescription drugs until after your baby is born. In many cases, RLS clears up by itself after delivery.