Best Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

Written by Ann Pietrangelo | Published on September 19, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on September 19, 2013

Which Remedy Is Right for You?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a problem for 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.

Home Remedies: Heat, Cold, Massage

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.

Home Remedies: Exercise and Relaxation

Perform some type of moderate exercise every day. However, don’t overdo it with bursts of exercise, and don’t exercise late in the day. Leg stretches may be particularly helpful for this condition. A brisk 30-minute walk is not just good for your legs; it’s good for your overall health.

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.

Home Remedies: Sleep Environment

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.

Over-the-Counter Medications

If you’re occasionally experiencing mild to moderate pain, you can use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen. You can also try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen. Keep in mind, however, 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.

Dietary Supplements: Vitamins and Minerals

In some cases, RLS may be caused by deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin B. Before you increase your use of dietary supplements (or begin using them), talk to your doctor. Even OTC dietary supplements can react with medications, and in the case of vitamins, it is certainly possible to get too much of a good thing. Blood tests can determine exactly which vitamins or minerals you’re lacking. Your doctor can prescribe the correct supplement as well as a safe dosage.

Prescription Medications

In severe cases of RLS, your doctor may prescribe narcotics to relieve pain. These medications can be habit-forming, however. Muscle relaxants and sleep aids may also help, but they don’t always relieve unpleasant leg sensations, and can also make you drowsy during the day. Medications intended for certain other diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy, can also be helpful for RLS. Work with your doctor to find the best medication for you. It may take a few tries or a combination of remedies to alleviate your symptoms.

Gabapentin

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 as far as relief of RLS symptoms. Potential side effects of this drug include fatigue, headache, nausea, and weight gain. More serious side effects include difficulty swallowing or breathing, or swelling of the face and throat.

Things to Avoid

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, including coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. Tobacco and alcoholic beverages can trigger RLS or make symptoms worse. Try abstaining from 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 the baby is born. In many cases, RLS clears up by itself after delivery.

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