Feeling jumpy? Restless Legs Syndrome Awareness Week

Posted on July 17, 2017 by kerri

I’ve been using a weighted blanket for about a year now, and have often read that they can be helpful with people with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). While I have heard a lot of people say they have “restless legs” or Restless Legs Syndrome, it is a condition I really do not know much about! Restless Legs Syndrome Awareness Week seems a good time to fill my knowledge gap! And, given up to 10% of people experience RLS—and that it can be treated with and without medication—hopefully learning about it helps you, too!

What does Restless Legs Syndrome feel like?
Restless Legs Syndrome probably feels about how you might think—legs feel like they are throbbing, pulling, “crawling or creeping”, or itching. [1] The sensations are relieved by movement, and often occur when at rest—either sitting for extended periods, or during sleep, and may be annoying or irritating, all the way up the scale to painful. [1] Symptoms can be mild to severe, and usually worsen over time—severe cases will experience symptoms more than twice per week, and can impair both sleep and daytime functioning due to sleepiness, which is caused by needing to awaken or being unable to fall asleep because of the need to keep the legs moving to alleviate discomfort. [1]

What are the causes of restless legs syndrome?
RLS is partly genetic, but most of the time, the exact cause is unknown. In some cases, other medical conditions can cause RLS. Parkinson’s is often a direct cause of RLS, but other conditions can cause the syndrome, including iron deficiency, alcohol use, nicotine consumption, caffeine use, having kidney disease (end-stage, usually) and being on dialysis, certain medications, especially those for mental health conditions as well as sinus and cold medicines, and neuropathy (nerve damage. As well, pregnancy may cause RLS—which is usually alleviated after the baby is born. [1]

In most cases where a cause is known, addressing the cause of the RLS by proper treatment, will alleviate the symptoms.

How is RLS treated?
A variety of treatments are available for Restless Legs Syndrome, and will vary based on the cause of the RLS. Medicine, sleep and lifestyle changes, applying heat or cold, and treating vitamin and mineral deficiencies may help to alleviate symptoms of RLS. [2] Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can also help. [2]

Heat and cold can help to relax your muscles in your legs, and massage can help relieve tension as well—even if you don’t have money for a professional massage, you can DIY this option at home! [2] Daily exercise like walking and leg stretches can help to keep things moving in your legs and reduce RLS symptoms. [2]

Because RLS is a sleep disorder, ensuring you are set-up for adequate sleep by maintaining a regular bedtime routine is important—read more sleep tips here. As above, medicines can help, including supplements and vitamins to correct deficiencies, and pain relievers (check with your doctor), as well as prescription medicines, and avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all help to reduce RLS episodes [1,2].

And, while little research has been done in the area, trying a weighted blanket over your legs may help, too. (A DIY method, such as the ones using ziplocs, rice and duct tape, is likely the best bet until you know it helps!)

If you are experiencing restless legs syndrome, talking with your doctor is always the best first step to making symptoms a thing of the past!

Like any sleep disorder, RLS can impair your ability to stay awake and alert during the day. If you have excessive daytime sleepiness caused by RLS, it is important to stay safe. If you may fall asleep unpredictably due to RLS keeping you up at night, wearing medical ID jewelry is important.

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