Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is an uncomfortable, often painful condition that can cause a sudden urge to move your legs to relieve your symptoms. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), this can often cause fragmented or otherwise insufficient sleep, which may lead to as much as a 20% reduction in work productivity over time.
While restless leg syndrome has no definitive cause, certain conditions may increase your risk of developing RLS, including kidney disease, pregnancy, nerve damage, anemia, and the use of certain prescription and non-prescription drugs. However, despite the somewhat enigmatic nature of the condition itself, experts say there are ways those who suffer can relieve their symptoms fast.
Jacob Hascalovici, MD, PhD, chief medical officer and co-founder of telehealth platform Clearing, says that one of the best ways to relieve restless leg syndrome symptoms is simple: just move your body more.
"While it may not seem fun, a regular exercise habit can help with general overall health and can specifically help prevent RLS, or at least reduce its impact," says Dr. Hascalovici. "Swimming, walking, tai chi, or yoga for 30 minutes a day can confer multiple health benefits at once. Even ten minutes at a time can help. It's best to do exercise earlier in the day instead of right before bed, although doing light stretches right before bed may help as well."
Dr. Hascalovici notes that reducing the use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can also help reduce RLS symptoms. On the other hand, adding iron to your diet may also help provide some relief—but Dr. Hascalovici cautions that you should consult their doctor first.
"It's possible to ingest too much iron," he says. "The iron found in foods like beans, tofu, eggs, watermelon, spinach, and sweet potatoes all supply adults with iron, especially if they drink orange juice or take vitamin C as well. For RLS control, eat kiwis, nuts, and drink cherry juice."
Externally, Dr. Hascalovici suggests using techniques that can help soothe your muscles and reduce symptoms.
"If it's not proving possible to completely prevent RLS, older adults can try to mitigate it with massages, hot baths, and leg wraps at bedtime. Heat pads and/or vibrating pads may also help," says Hascalovici, noting that heating pads shouldn't come into contact with broken or damaged skin and that they shouldn't be used in conjunction with pain-relief creams.
Since RLS is frequently associated with sleep disturbances, Dr. Hascalovici also recommends that those with the condition do what they can to mitigate these effects by increasing your sleep duration however possible, including limiting screen time before bed, investing in blackout curtains or a sleep mask, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Combined, these simple habits may help reduce symptomatic days of RLS and get your well-being back on track sooner.
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