Ester Marsh column: Are you suffering from restless legs syndrome?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2022

I have had challenges with restless leg syndrome, especially flying overseas.

What is restless legs syndrome? Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move when at rest. RLS sensations are often described by people as burning, creeping, tugging or like insects crawling inside your legs. There are different ranges of severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful. The most distinctive aspect of RLS is when lying down and trying to relax, it activates the symptoms. So as a result, most people either have a hard time falling asleep or wake up with symptoms. How do you get it? In most cases, the cause is unknown. A family history of RLS is seen in about 50% of such cases. In other cases, RLS appears to be related to the following factors or conditions (research has not proven if these factors actually cause RLS):

• People with low iron levels or anemia are prone to developing RLS

• Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and periphereral neuropathy are associated with RLS

• Some pregnant women experience RLS

• Certain medications such as anti-nausea drugs, anti-seizure drugs and some cold and allergy medication may aggravate symptoms

• Research has also found that caffeine, alcohol and tobacco may aggravate or trigger symptoms in patients who are predisposed to develop RLS

When you have your leg jerking while you are trying to sleep or rest, the last thing on your mind is to exercise that leg! After doing this research, I found that exercising your legs is excellent therapy.

I found that yoga is one of the best ways to combat RLS. Yoga features both physical and mental components, allowing you to calm your entire system down. You might find that breathing exercises and stretches also might be beneficial.

If you are dealing with RLS during the day at work, you might find significant relief from a morning and evening walk or run. Walk or run hard then spend time stretching your legs as deeply as possible.

Reflexology will give you relief as can deep tissue massage. Exercise before bedtime has been successful with some people. It does mention for best results to perform leg exercises as close to bedtime as possible since leg exercises and walks bring only short-term relief. Exercise helps by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller.

Take your vitamins! As mentioned above, several studies have shown that iron deficiency can trigger symptoms of RLS

Have a glass a wine! (I like this one!) There are people who have RLS who get relief by drinking a glass of wine each night. Please note there is no scientific evidence that wine helps relieve RLS. Make sure you stay in contact with your doctor (have your doctor diagnose you first) because there is medication that is used to treat RLS.

Keep moving, stretch often and breathe deeply, and what I have found is that wearing compression hose while flying my RLS does not happen or is minimal. And for me a nice glass of wine helps too.

Ester Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley family YMCA.