Restless leg syndrome (RLS), a disorder of the nervous system that causes itchy, “pins and needles,” or a “creepy crawly” feeling in the legs, affects up to 10% of the adult population. It causes an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. The sensations are usually worse when lying or sitting, and since it usually interferes with sleep, it is also considered a sleep disorder. As research has shown over and over, sleep disruption can significantly impair quality of life, so RLS is more than just an uncomfortable inconvenience to live with. Symptoms can be mild to barely tolerable, can come and go, and vary in severity.
Truth is, medicine doesn’t really know what causes RLS, although it is recognized that more females experience it than males. It is thought that perhaps genes play a role, or problems with dopamine or poor circulation (low level of oxygen in the blood).
Certain chronic conditions (Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and iron or vitamin D deficiency) and pharmaceutical drugs containing sedating antihistamines, such as antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants and cold/allergy medications, include as a side effect the symptoms of RLS. This is known as secondary RLS. Treating the underlying cause can often bring relief.
Some women experience RLS when pregnant. Fortunately, the symptoms tend to disappear within a month or so after delivery.
One other contributing factor to RLS that is often overlooked by the medical community is walking with a habitual short stride. This may be from habit, or from a limitation in movement originating in the hip, knee or even an ankle injury. A lengthening stretch of antagonistic muscles doesn’t occur with RLS as it does naturally in a long, easy walking stride. Another possible cause of short stride length can be tightened quadriceps from sitting for long periods of time.
What To Do
In my experience, people with RLS generally benefit from reflexology.
Interestingly, a study done in 2013 with 30 people using a foot wrap called a restiffic for eight weeks found significant improvements in RLS symptoms and sleep quality.
This is the interesting part as far as I’m concerned: the wrap puts pressure on points of the plantar surface of the feet. The pressure sends messages to the brain instructing the affected leg muscles to relax.
Sounds a lot like reflexology!
In my reflexology sessions, I do a lot of range-of-motion with the ankles, and stretch and massage the calf muscles. I focus on the reflexes to the:
* central nervous system
* low back muscles
The following changes in habits have been known to help bring relief for people suffering with restless leg syndrome:
* Tai chi
* Regular exercise that involves cardiovascular movement and lower body resistance training of the lower extremities
* Yoga and/or stretching
* A regular sleep pattern
* Elimination or reduction of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
* Hot baths
* Ice packs applied to legs when experiencing a flare-up of RLS
Do you or any of your clients live with restless leg syndrome? If yes, what have you found to help? Please share so that we can all learn something.