- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
- Bothered by unpleasant feelings in your legs at night? Learn about the symptoms, self-help, and treatment of restless legs syndrome.
- Signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome
- RLS self-help tip 1: Avoid triggers
- Tip 2: Get daily exercise
- Tip 3: Improve your sleep
- Relieving restless legs in the moment
- Seeking medical treatment for RLS
- Non-pharmaceutical treatments
- 8 Yoga Poses to Calm Restless Legs Syndrome
- What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
- What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
- Restless Legs Syndrome Effects on Long-term Health
- Natural Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome
- 8 Yoga Poses to Treat Restless Legs
- How to sleep better with Restless Legs Syndrome
- Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome
- Related Blogs:
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- Exercises to Relieve Restless Leg Syndrome
- How Exercises Help Restless Leg Syndrome
- Stretches for RLS
- RLS Exercises
- When and How Long to Stretch
- Managing RLS Symptoms Safely
- Stretching for Restless Legs
- Stretching and RLS – Before and During
- Types of Stretching Exercises for RLS
- Additional Stretching Exercises
- Stretching to Reduce Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Bothered by unpleasant feelings in your legs at night? Learn about the symptoms, self-help, and treatment of restless legs syndrome.
Do strange and unpleasant sensations in your legs keep you up at night? Are you bothered by an almost irresistible urge to move your legs when you lie down or relax? If so, you may have restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder. The tingling, aching, and itching of RLS can last for hours and prevent you from getting the sleep you need.
Anyone can have restless legs syndrome, but it’s more common in older adults and women. Mild symptoms of RLS may start in early adulthood and then increase with age. After age 50, RLS symptoms often increase in severity and significantly disrupt sleep. Restless legs syndrome is also common during pregnancy (approximately 40% of pregnant women experience it).
Experts believe that low levels of iron in the brain may be responsible for RLS. An imbalance of dopamine is also believed to contribute. About 60% of people with restless legs have a family member with the condition, indicating a strong genetic component. Whatever the cause of your restless legs syndrome, though, it’s important to know that help is available. In recent years, experts have discovered better ways to manage and relieve symptoms—including simple lifestyle changes and self-help remedies you can practice at home to quiet your restless legs and enjoy a peaceful, refreshing sleep.
Restless legs syndrome: Seeking help
Studies estimate that 1 out of 10 people suffer from restless legs, yet it’s not always easy to find help and support. Many people with RLS never receive proper treatment. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to explain and sufferers are often dismissed as being “nervous.” Those who haven’t experienced the distressing symptoms may not understand how severely they can impact the quality of your life. Even doctors may not take restless legs seriously, recognize the symptoms, or realize that they point to a real medical condition.
The good news is that recent research has increased our understanding of restless legs syndrome, leading to more effective treatments. At the same time, RLS is becoming more widely recognized. If you or your partner suffers from restless legs, there’s never been a better time to find relief.
A night in the life of RLS
If you have restless legs syndrome, a typical night might go like this: You lie down in bed, ready to go to sleep, and just as your body begins to relax, the crawling, tingling, or itching in your legs begin. You try to ignore the uncomfortable sensations, hoping they will go away, but eventually the urge to move is too much. You get out of bed to stretch and pace the floor and, for a moment, you find relief. But when you lie down again, the restless sensations in your legs start all over again.
Signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome
Not only do the signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome differ from person to person, but they can be tricky to describe. Common descriptions include: a “creepy-crawly” feeling, tingling, itching, prickling, burning, pulling, tugging, and aching. Some people have said it feels like bugs are crawling up their legs, a fizzy soda is bubbling through their veins, or they have a “deep bone itch.” Sometimes the symptoms are painful, but usually they are simply uncomfortable and disturbing.
Common signs and symptoms of RLS
Leg discomfort combined with strong urge to move – Uncomfortable sensations deep within the legs, accompanied by a strong, often irresistible urge to move them.
Rest triggers the symptoms – The uncomfortable leg sensations start or become worse when you’re sitting, lying down, or trying to relax.
Symptoms get worse at night – RLS typically flares up at night. In more severe cases, the symptoms may begin earlier in the day, but they become much more intense at bedtime.
Symptoms improve when you walk or move your legs – The relief continues as long as you keep moving.
Leg twitching or kicking while sleeping – Many people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which involves repetitive cramping or jerking of the legs during sleep.
The symptoms of RLS can range from mildly annoying to severely disabling. You may experience the symptoms only once in a while, such as times of high stress, or they may plague you every night. In severe cases of RLS, you may experience symptoms in your arms as well as your legs.
RLS self-help tip 1: Avoid triggers
Avoiding known RLS triggers is a smart first step to overcoming the problem.
Manage stress. RLS symptoms get worse when you’re anxious and overwhelmed. Anything you can do to keep stress in check will help, including relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing.
Cut back or eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is known to worsen the symptoms of restless legs, so be cautious about drinking in the evening. Alcohol also disrupts sleep, so you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and be bothered by RLS symptoms.
Don’t over exercise. While moderate daily exercise can significantly ease RLS symptoms, it’s important not to overdo it. Strenuous exercise can sometimes exacerbate the symptoms of RLS, especially close to bedtime, so avoid exercising to the point where your joints or muscles become painful or ache.
Stop smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant that impairs blood flow to muscles and can make restless legs worse, so it’s best to avoid cigarettes, vaporizers, and e-cigarettes.
Experiment with caffeine. For some people with RLS, caffeine is a trigger. However recent research shows that it may actually benefit others. To see which camp you fall into, try cutting out coffee, tea, and soft drinks and monitor your symptoms.
Check your medicine cabinet
There are many common medications—both prescription and over-the-counter—that can trigger the symptoms of RLS or make them worse. Medications to watch out for include:
- Over-the-counter sleeping pills
- Cold and allergy medications containing antihistamines (such as Benadryl, NyQuil, and Dimetapp)
- Anti-nausea medications (such as Antivert, Compazine, and Dramamine)
- Calcium channel blockers (used for high blood pressure, migraines, and heart problems)
- Antidepressants (such as Prozac, Effexor, and Lexapro)
- Antipsychotics (used for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia)
Get checked for iron and vitamin deficiencies
A number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to restless legs syndrome.
Iron. Iron deficiency (anemia) is a well-known cause of RLS, so ask your doctor to test you for anemia. However, supplementing with iron can also improve RLS symptoms in those who aren’t anemic.
Magnesium. Magnesium can improve sleep and some studies have shown it to be beneficial for restless legs. Try experimenting with a magnesium supplement (250 to 500 mg) at bedtime to see if your symptoms improve.
Vitamin D. Recent studies show that RLS symptoms are more frequent and more severe in people with vitamin D deficiency. Your doctor can easily test your vitamin D levels or you can simply make it a point to get out more in the sun.
Folate (folic acid). Folate deficiency has been linked to RLS, which may explain why restless legs are so common in pregnant women (folate plays a key role in healthy fetal development). When folic acid is low, B12 is often low as well, so you may want to try supplementing with a B-complex vitamin.
Tip 2: Get daily exercise
Daily activity, including aerobic exercise and lower-body resistance training, can significantly reduce the symptoms of restless legs syndrome in most people. Choose activities you enjoy, especially those that emphasize using the legs. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days, although not too close to bed time.
The exercise doesn’t need to be intense. Simple daily activities such as walking can often deliver all the benefits you’re looking for. In fact, highly vigorous exercise—like training for a marathon—can sometimes backfire and make RLS symptoms worse.
Simple stretching can help stop the symptoms of restless legs syndrome in their tracks. Here’s a handful to help you get started:
Calf stretch – Stretch out your arms so that your palms are flat against a wall and your elbows are nearly straight. Slightly bend your right knee and step your left leg back a foot or two, positioning its heel and foot flat on the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Now bend your left knee while still keeping its heel and foot flat on the floor. For a deeper stretch, move your foot back a bit farther. Switch legs and repeat.
Front thigh stretch – Standing parallel to a wall for balance, grab and pull one of your ankles toward your buttock while keeping the other leg straight. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Hip stretch – Place the back of a chair against the wall for support and stand facing the chair. Raise your left foot up and rest it flat on the chair, with your knee bent. (Or try placing your foot on a stair while holding the railing for balance.) Keeping your spine as neutral as possible, press your pelvis forward gently until you feel a stretch at the top of your right thigh. Your pelvis will move forward only a little. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
The yoga cure for restless legs
According to research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, women with RLS who practiced yoga reduced their symptoms and experienced less stress, an elevated mood, and better sleep habits.
Tip 3: Improve your sleep
The symptoms of restless legs syndrome can make it hard to get to sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you not only feel terrible, but you’re more vulnerable to stress. Stress and fatigue can worsen RLS, making it a vicious cycle, so doing what it takes to get enough sleep is crucial.
Try sleeping with a pillow between your legs. It may prevent nerves in your legs from compressing and result in fewer nighttime RLS symptoms.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Support your body’s natural sleep rhythms by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (including weekends).
Optimize your bedroom for sleep. Make sure the room is dark (no lights from electronic devices), quiet, and cool.
Wind down with a relaxing bedtime routine. Try curling up in bed with a book, listening to calming music, or taking a hot bath (the heat has the added bonus of relieving restless legs).
Power down electronics 1-2 hours before bed. The blue light from screens (TVs, phones, tablets, computers) suppresses sleep-promoting hormones and stimulates your brain.
Keep a sleep diary of RLS symptoms
Logging changes in your diet, lifestyle, sleep habits, and routine might help you make helpful connections between your daily activities and the quality of your sleep at night.
Click here to download HelpGuide’s sleep diary.
Relieving restless legs in the moment
Sometimes, despite your best self-help efforts, the symptoms of restless legs flare up. The following tips will help you find quick relief:
- Get up and walk around. Fighting the urge to move can make the feelings worse.
- Distract yourself with a game or activity.
- Apply hot or cold packs to your legs.
- Try calf stretches, yoga poses, knee bends, or a simple ankle or foot rotation.
- Relax your muscles with massage or a hot bath.
- Pressure can help relieve the discomfort of restless legs syndrome. Try wearing compression socks or stockings or wrap your legs in bandages (but not so tight you’ll cut off circulation).
Avoid extended periods of inactivity
Sitting still for too long can make the symptoms of RLS worse, so try to break up periods of sitting with movement or stretches.
- Find or create a work setting where you can be active. If you work at an office, look into a desk that lets you stand and type, or walk while talking on the phone.
- Tell friends, family, and coworkers why you have to move around more than others. They’ll likely try to accommodate you and want to help you create a healthy environment.
- Schedule activities that may require long periods of sitting—such as car journeys, flights, or waiting for appointments—in the morning rather than late in the day.
- Choose an aisle seat at movies and on planes so that you can get up and move.
- Give yourself stretch breaks at work and during long car rides.
Seeking medical treatment for RLS
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome and self-help strategies simply aren’t cutting it, you may benefit from medical treatment.
Diagnosing restless legs syndrome
No laboratory test can confirm a diagnosis of restless legs syndrome. To diagnose RLS, your doctor will need:
- A complete medical history
- A diagnostic interview, to rule out other medical conditions
- A blood test for low iron levels
- A list of medications and supplements you’re taking
- A survey to see if anyone else in your family has similar symptoms
If a medical condition, such as iron deficiency, diabetes, or nerve damage is triggering your restless legs, treating the underlying problem may relieve your symptoms. If not, you may benefit from medication or other treatments.
- Iron deficiency (anemia)
- Kidney disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Thyroid problems
- Neurologic lesions (spinal cord tumors, peripheral nerve lesions, or spinal cord injury)
- Sleep apnea or narcolepsy
- Varicose veins or trouble with the nerves in the hands or feet
There are a number of non-pharmaceutical treatments that have shown promise for treating restless legs syndrome.
Relaxis vibrating pad. The FDA-approved Relaxis pad is placed under your legs and vibrates at different intensities for 30-minute periods to provide counter-stimulation to the restless legs sensation. While it doesn’t work for everyone, the device does seem to help some RLS sufferers get better sleep without the unpleasant side effects of medication. In the U.S., the device is offered only with a prescription and can be either rented or purchased.
Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS). Fifteen to 30 minutes of daily TENS therapy (using low-voltage electrical current) appears to help people who experience a lot of muscle spasms. You can purchase a portable, bedside TENS unit online. They are relatively inexpensive and don’t require a prescription.
Positional release manipulation. A small medical trial in the United Kingdom found that an osteopathic exercise technique known as positional release manipulation (PRM) could benefit people with restless legs syndrome. PRM involves holding different parts of the body in a position that reduces feelings of discomfort and pain.
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, hypnotherapy, and reflexology may also help relieve RLS symptoms.
If you have severe RLS symptoms that haven’t improved with lifestyle changes or other treatments, you may benefit from medication. However, no single medication works for everyone with RLS. In fact, a drug that relieves one person’s restless legs may actually make your symptoms worse. In addition, drugs used to treat RLS come with serious side effects, so it’s important to weigh the benefits against the risks.
The following types of medications are most commonly used to treat RLS:
- Parkinson’s medications that affect dopamine
- Benzodiazepines (a type of anti-anxiety medication)
- Prescription painkillers (opiates)
- Anti-seizure medications
Many people with restless legs syndrome find that medications that work initially become less effective over time, so experts recommend also pursuing self-help remedies to give yourself the best chance of effectively relieving symptoms over the long term.
8 Yoga Poses to Calm Restless Legs Syndrome
Are your twitching legs keeping you awake at night? Do you regularly feel like you have an itch that you just can’t scratch? You may be suffering from restless legs syndrome.
In this article, we’ll talk about the causes of this condition, and you’ll learn eight yoga poses to treat restless legs.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder that causes the following symptoms: an uncontrollable urge to move, burning or itching in the lower body, and general sensory discomfort.
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It affects up to 10% of adults in industrialized nations and is more common in women than men; RLS prevalence is higher in Western populations than Asian countries (1) (2).
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
Despite being a common condition, specific causes of RLS have not yet been determined — no doubt a huge point of frustration for anyone experiencing it. While research suggests a link between RLS and abnormalities in brain chemicals that help regulate muscle movements, findings are still inconclusive (3).
Saying that, structural and nutritional deviations may exacerbate, if not cause, restless legs:
Structural: Ongoing discomfort in the lower limbs points to some kind of structural issue in the posterior chain, such as compression or tightness in the hamstrings, SI joint issues, restrictions in the hip or piriformis, or spinal compression. Exercise, stretching and massage can help mild to moderate cases of RLS, and shortly you’ll learn of the best yoga poses to treat restless legs syndrome.
Nutritional: Nutritional deficiency is another possible cause of Restless Legs Syndrome. While much research already points to the connection between low iron and the occurrence of RLS (4), other vitamins and minerals also play an important role in healthy muscle function, including vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and folate.
- Iron and vitamin D: both are required for proper dopamine signaling, and a deficiency in either of these elements could impair function in the neurotransmitters that affect muscle movement (5) (6).
- Magnesium: this essential mineral plays a role in regulating nerve and muscle function, and a magnesium deficiency can cause muscular contractions and cramps. Studies suggest that magnesium supplementation may help manage RLS symptoms in mild-to-moderate cases (7) and may reduce the severity of insomnia in RLS patients (8).
- Potassium: this mineral helps to regulate blood pressure and muscle contraction, maintain muscular strength, and correct functioning of nerve impulses (i.e., signals transmitted along a nerve fiber that stimulate or inhibit muscle and gland function). Incorporating potassium-rich foods, such as banana, yogurt, avocado, mango, spinach and kiwi, into the diet can reduce muscle cramps (which are one symptom of RLS).
- Folate: also supports nervous tissue and muscular tissues, and supplementation has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of RLS and may play a role in its treatment (9). However, be sure to talk with your doctor before starting the use of any new dietary supplement, and find out exactly what vitamins or minerals you may need to supplement.
Restless Legs Syndrome Effects on Long-term Health
RLS symptoms tend to be worse at night due to muscular inactivity, which disrupts sleep and can cause insomnia. This sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, brain fog, anxiety and insulin resistance (10) (11) (12). There is a direct link between RLS and depression due to insomnia (13).
Natural Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome
In addition to the possible nutritional supplementation mentioned above, other natural remedies for RLS include:
- Participate in light to moderate exercise (but avoid high intensity exercise)
- Take warm baths
- Use hot and cold packs
- Manage stress and practice meditation
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Consider acupuncture, massage or wellness chiropractic
- Stretch and mobilize the leg muscles
8 Yoga Poses to Treat Restless Legs
As mentioned above, RLS may be exacerbated by structural issues in the lower, posterior chain.
The following eight yoga poses help treat restless legs syndrome by stretching and relaxing the sections of the lower body that are causing discomfort. When choosing yoga poses or any other stretches to ease RLS, prioritize those that decompress and mobilize muscles in the back of the legs, the piriformis and SI joint, the hip girdle, and the low back.
Yoga provides the added benefit of relaxing the adrenal glands and reducing cortisol levels, which may reduce stress caused by RLS-induced insomnia.
Down Dog (Pedal) | 10 breaths per side
Start in downward facing dog position (an upside-down “V”). EXHALE, bend the left knee and press the right heel to the floor; hold for the INHALE. EXHALE, bend the right knee and press the left heel to the floor; hold for the INHALE. Continue to pedal your feet for 10 total breaths on each leg.
Cobra | 6 reps
Lie on your stomach and place the forearms on the floor, hands slightly forward of the shoulders. Squeeze your buttocks, draw your navel to your spine, and lift the head and chest up from the floor in spinal extension. Slowly lower back down. INHALE to lift, EXHALE to lower. Keep the feet and hips on the ground at all times and visualize your spine lengthening. Repeat six times.
Up Dog | 3 reps
To advance cobra, place the palms directly underneath the shoulders, squeeze the buttocks, draw your navel to your spine, and then lift the head and chest, straightening your arms to also lift the hips from the floor. The feet stay on the ground as you lift your heart up to the ceiling and open the hip crease. INHALE to lift, EXHALE to lower. Repeat three times.
Pigeon | 5 breaths per side
Bend the right knee to 45º and point the right heel to the left hip bone; the left leg is extended straight behind you and your palms press into the floor. Keeping the chest upright, take five deep breaths and feel the stretch in the right outer hip. Repeat on the other side.
To advance: lower the arms and head to the floor. Hold for another 5-10 breaths, then switch sides.
Half Forward Fold | 6 breaths per side
Start seated with the left leg straight and the right knee bent to the side (the right foot touches the inner left thigh). Keeping a flat back, hinge forward and reach for your foot or shin. Hold for six breaths, then switch sides. For assistance, place a towel or yoga strap around the arch of your extended leg foot.
Full Forward Fold | 6 breaths
Start seated with both legs straight in front of you and the ankles flexed. Lean forward and rest your head towards your knees. Hold for six breaths. For assistance, place a towel or yoga strap around the arches of the feet, or place a pillow on your shins for added lift.
Bridge | 3 breaths
Lie on your back with your feet hip distance apart; you should be able to touch your heels with your extended fingers. EXHALE, lift the hips up and interlace the hands under the back, pressing the fists into the ground to open the chest. Stay for three breaths, squeezing the backside to decompress the low back and open the hip crease.
Bow Pose | 3 breaths per side
Lie on your belly with your elbows bent as in cobra. Bend your right knee, bringing the heel as close as possible to your buttocks. Reach your right arm back and hold the ankle, then lift the head and chest and look forward; hold for three breaths before switching sides.
To advance: reach back for both ankles, INHALE, lift the head and chest and hold for three full breaths (make sure that your knees stay in line with your hips and don’t splay to the side). Repeat up to three times.
(Your Next Workout: The 10-Minute Yoga Routine for Perfect Sleep)
Some people can fall asleep anywhere, any time. This is an impressive ability, and for those of us who have endured an endless plane ride or a restless night, it’s enviable. But there are some conditions that make sleep extremely difficult to snooze soundly, no matter who you are. Chief among sleep ailments is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).
What is Restless Legs Syndrome? As its name implies, RLS causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs often resulting in a strong urge to move them, creating “restless legs.” People with RLS have described the feelings as tingly, crawling, and even burning. “RLS is one of several sleep disorders that can interfere with sleep, negatively impacting concentration, mood, concentration, and even relationships,” says Terry Cralle, RN, certified sleep educator, Saatva sleep consultant, and author of Sleeping Your Way to the Top.
Restless Legs Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease (or colloquially as jumping legs or irritable leg syndrome), usually occurs at bedtime, but it can also happen while you’re sedentary during the day, says Cralle. An estimated seven to 10% of the US population suffers from RLS symptoms. It’s more common in women and can begin at any age. Although there is no cure, non-drug therapies are an option in most cases. Cralle says that many people with Restless Legs Syndrome symptoms ignore them, but “without diagnosis and treatment, RLS suffers generally experience a reduced quality of life.”
How to sleep better with Restless Legs Syndrome
While only a medical professional can diagnose RLS, once you know you have it, there are steps you can take to relieve the symptoms and get your sleep back on track. Here, we’ve outlined five quick tips to help mitigate the unpleasant RLS symptoms.
1. Consider iron supplements
Research from Johns Hopkins Medicine shows iron deficiency is the single most common factor of what causes Restless Legs Syndrome in patients, even when their blood contains normal levels of iron. Some researchers think this paradoxical finding is because the brain doesn’t always absorb the correct amount of iron from the blood. A 2011 study published in Sleep Medicine revealed that patients who increased the amount of ferritin (a protein that stores iron) had significantly greater improvement in RLS symptoms than a placebo group. That being said, it’s important to talk to your doctor before adding an iron supplement to your routine, as they can help determine the right dose (taking too much can have harmful effects).
2. Exercise more
Researchers have identified dopamine imbalance as a potential cause for Restless Legs Syndrome. Exercise can help rectify this, and it has the added benefit of tiring and stretching your leg muscles. Researchers suggest exercise could be a relatively quick remedy for RLS symptoms: Participants in a trial study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine saw improvements after three weekly sessions of aerobic and lower-body resistance training for a 12-week period. (Here’s why morning is the best time to exercise.)
3. Practice mindfulness
More and more people are using mindfulness to enhance sleep quality—and for a good reason. Our brain plays a leading role in sleep hygiene—and when it comes to RLS, the data suggests mindfulness can help. A 2015 study in the journal Mindfulness concluded that a six-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction improved symptom severity, sleep quality, RLS-specific quality of life, and overall mental health. (Here are 10 nighttime activities to help you relax.)
4. Massage your legs
RLS can affect many of the muscles in your legs. But a 2007 study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that focused lower leg rubs twice a week eased symptoms such as tingling sensations associated with restless legs, urges to move, and sleeplessness. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to shell out for a professional massage—even some light touches, circulation work, or a foam roller could help.
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5. Take a hot bath
As part of a pre-bedtime ritual including stretches and leg rubs, consider loosening up with a hot bath. This can help ease muscle pain and release tension for those with restless legs. In addition, the high temperature can help to distract from the irritating tingling sensation that otherwise plagues RLS, and give your mind some relief. Just remember not to make it too warm, because too-high temps can make it harder for you to fall asleep.
For more tips on catching Zzz’s, here are nine surprising things to help you sleep. Are achy muscles keeping you from getting a full night’s sleep? Check out our tips on the best way to sleep with back pain.
Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome
Here are some exercises to help those managing Restless Leg Syndrome. Begin the seated exercises by sitting tall with your feet flat on the floor. Maintain good posture throughout.
By Mary Ann Wilson, RN
Seated Leg Circulation Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome
• Heel-Toe Rock: Alternate between lifting the heels, then the toes. Repeat 5 times.
• Heel Push: Pull both feet back slightly toward the base of the chair. Raise the heels of both feet so that only the balls of the feet are touching the floor. Next, lean slightly forward from the hips (keeping the back straight) and place both hands on top of the right knee. Using the weight of your upper body, push the right knee down so the heel goes to the floor. Raise the heel back up and repeat several times. Move the hands to the left knee and repeat the exercise.
• Knee to Chest: (Note: If you have osteoporosis avoid this exercise.) Place hands under the thigh of one leg just above the knee. Gently lift the knee toward chest 5 times. Next lift the same knee and hold it there while you perform 5 ankle circles in each direction. Repeat with other leg.
• Ankle Motion: Straighten one knee. Point and flex the toes of the straightened leg 5 times. Then rock the ankle side to side 5 times (inversion and eversion). Repeat with the other leg.
Standing Leg Stretches for Restless Leg Syndrome
Stand behind a sturdy chair for support. Lengthen the spine and maintain good posture throughout the exercises.
• Soleus Stretch: Take a tiny step back with one foot so the toes are even with the heel of the other foot. Keeping both heels on the floor, sink straight down, bending the knees, but keeping the torso in good postural alignment. You will feel a stretch above the heel cord on the back leg. Hold for a count of 10 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
• Gastroc Stretch: Hold onto the back of the chair for support. Take a large step back with one foot. Bend the forward knee*, and keep the back leg straight. Keep the toes of both feet pointed forward. Lower the back heel down to the floor. You will feel the stretch in the belly of the calf muscle of the back leg. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Release the stretch by raising the heel. Then sink back into the stretch again and hold for 10 seconds. *To avoid strain on the forward knee, be sure the knee is directly over the ankle, not in front of it.
• Hamstring Stretch: Hold the back of the chair for support. Bend the supporting leg slightly as you hinge forward at the hips and reach forward with one heel (keeping the knee straight). Pull the toes of the forward foot toward the shin and feel the stretch in the back of the thigh . Hold for the count of 10. Repeat on the other side.
• Calf Stretch: First, take a large step forward. Bend the knee of the forward leg while keeping the back leg straight and the back foot firmly planted on the ground. You should feel the stretch in the calf muscles of the back leg. Be sure the forward knee is not bent past the (forward) ankle. Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Change legs and repeat.
• Soleus Stretch: Keep both heels on the floor and raise the toes of one foot toward the shin (dorsiflexion). You will feel a mild stretch above the heel cord. Hold for a count of 10 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
• Gastroc Stretch: Straighten one knee and pull the toes toward you (dorsiflexion). You will feel a mild stretch in the belly of the calf muscle. Hold for 10 seconds. Release the stretch by relaxing the ankle, then stretch again for 10 seconds.
• Hamstring Stretch: Scoot to the front edge of the chair. Extend one heel forward, resting it on the floor. Pull the toes of the forward foot toward you (dorsiflexion) and straighten the knee. Support your upper body by placing your hands on the thigh of the bent leg. Keep your head up and back straight. Bend forward at the hip. You’ll feel the stretch in the back of the thigh of the forward leg. Stretch for a count of 10, and repeat on the other side.
• Calf Stretch: Sit toward the front of the chair. For this exercise you may want to put a ball or pillow behind your back to support the spine. Begin by extending one leg forward and straighten the knee, lifting the leg off the ground. Pull the toes of the extended leg back toward the shin (dorsiflexion). Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
Other Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome
These exercises can be done from the seated or standing position.
• Bounce: Bounce on your heels. Make the movement small. Try to get into a rhythmic vibration.
• Shake: Lift one leg off the ground at a time and gently shake it.
• March: March with your toes only, then march with your heels only. Finish by marching with the entire foot.
• Pat and Tap: With your palms open, pat and tap up and down the legs.
Relaxation Techniques To Help Manage Restless Leg Syndrome
For best results, practice in a quiet, darkened, room. Play peaceful music in the background to help induce a relaxed state. Lie on your back. With your head comfortably supported, close your eyes. Breathe deeply, in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 8. Repeat 5 times. Return to normal breathing while you do the following exercises.
1. Tense the buttock muscles by squeezing the buttocks together. Release and notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation.
2. Tense the muscles on the front of the thighs by straightening the knees and tightening the muscles around the kneecaps. Feel the tension. Then let go and feel the relaxation.
3. Tense the muscles on the backs of the thighs by bending the knees slightly and digging the heels into the bed. Feel the muscles working, then relax. Notice the change in how the muscles feel.
4. Tense the shin muscles by pulling your feet and toes up (dorsiflexion). Feel the tension in the muscle on the front of your legs. Then let go completely and feel the relaxation.
5. Tense the calf muscles by pointing the toes down (plantarflexion). Feel the tension in the muscles. Then let go and feel the tension leaving the muscles.
6. Finish as you began with 5 more cycles of inhaling deeply for the count of 4 and exhaling for the count of 4.
Restless Leg Syndrome
If you have restless legs syndrome, you know the feeling: It’s been a long day and all you can imagine doing is settling on the couch to catch up on your fave Netflix show. As soon as you sit down, your legs start tingling and aching and then your blissful TV sesh is interrupted by the fact that your legs are screaming at you to move around. Sound familiar? “Restless legs syndrome is ultimately a slightly impulsive and erratic electrical signal in the lower nerves of the spine,” says Eric Goodman, DC, chiropractor and creator of Foundation Training. “Symptoms often worsen as you get neurologically tired, so typically it’s worse at the end of the day, and of course, while you’re trying to sleep.”
You can still take actionable steps to help ease the urge to move. “It’s very important to continue to work out when you have restless legs syndrome, but it’s even more important to not overexert yourself or push yourself hard. You should only do you exercise to a point where you don’t feel aches or fatigue, and avoid overtraining the muscles,” says Nonna Gleyzer, founder of Los Angeles-based Pilates studio, Body By Nonna.
That means low impact workouts that don’t involve a lot of repetitions are great options since they don’t over-fatigue your muscles (which can aggravate the symptoms). Gleyzer also suggests exercise like restorative yoga, stretching, or light walking since they can help relax your nervous system and calm the body. It’s best to do options that are lower in repetition and lower intensity (like Pilates) that let you control your resistance so you don’t tax your muscles too much. So even though your favorite HIIT routine or spin class may be out, you can still keep moving with a carefully curated routine.
Try these 4 stretches to help open up your lower half
For best results, Gleyzer advises doing this routine in the morning and in the afternoon (especially after sitting all day at work) versus later into the evening.
1. Calf raise and stretch: “This exercise not only stretches your calf but also isolates and works the muscle. You’re also stretching the Achilles tendon with this move,” says Gleyzer. “First stand with your left leg forward and your right leg slightly behind you. Lift both of your arms above your head and reach upward, lifting your energy upward to the ceiling. This helps you balance the pelvic floor and engage your stomach muscles. Raising your arms above your head also helps improve blood circulation while you complete the move. Keep your weight even on both feet, and lift your back heel up and lower. Do this move three to five times, and then switch legs.”
2. Lunge with quad and hamstring stretch: “Going into the lunge position helps stretch the quad and also is a deep opening stretch for the hip flexor,” explains Gleyzer. “Start in a lunge position with your left leg forward and your right shin down. Place your hands on either side of your left foot to support you as you move. Slowly rock forward and back, holding the stretch for three seconds in each direction), stretching your quad and hamstrings as you move in each direction. Complete five to eight times and then switch legs.”
3. Standing full quad stretch: “This move fully stretches the quad muscle while also engaging the abs and glutes,” says Gleyzer. “Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Engage your abs and lift one leg towards your bottom and hold for three to five seconds and release. When you pull your heel towards your bottom, be sure to engage the abdominals and squeeze the glutes. Repeat three to five times on each leg.”
4. Inner thigh and hamstring stretch: “This move stretches and opens the hamstrings and inner thighs. As you lift up you’re also engaging the oblique muscles,” says Gleyzer. “Come to a seated position with one leg straight and extending out to the side and the other bent in towards you. Slowly lift up and bend your upper body forward over your outstretched leg, reaching for your shin or toes. Complete five to ten times and switch legs.”
Speaking of stretching, here are 4 ways to stretch your neck when it’s feeling tight. And check out these tips to prevent overstretching (yes, it can happen.)
Exercises to Relieve Restless Leg Syndrome
Do you feel an irresistible urge to move your legs that causes you to wake up during the night? Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that creates these feelings and can cause significant sleep disturbances. Typically caused by iron deficiency, low dopamine levels, or genetic factors RLS symptoms can be managed with exercise and stretches. Learn more about how you can implement exercises for restless leg syndrome into your daily routine.
How Exercises Help Restless Leg Syndrome
Exercise for restless legs syndrome relaxes and tires out the muscles so you can get to sleep. Since restless leg syndrome is still in the early stages of medical research, treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms. Remember, an exercise program that works for one person might not work for another. You’ll need to try different techniques to find what works best for you. Exercise and stretching are treatment options that have minimal side effects and can benefit your whole body.
Try yoga for restless leg syndrome
Stretches for RLS
If you suffer from restless leg syndrome stretching loosens up muscles and produces an overall sense of relaxation. Check out these stretches and incorporate them into your exercise or bedtime routine to gain the most benefit.
A calf stretch loosens tight calf muscles and relaxes the lower legs. Start off by finding a stable surface to push against such as a chair or wall. Place both hands on the surface and move your right leg back. While keeping your left leg close to the surface, straighten your right knee as much as you can. You should feel the stretch in your calf. Ensure that your toes are facing forward and are not out to the side. Switch legs and repeat the same movement. Do not push through the pain.
Hold this stretch as long as you can, up to one minute.
Anterior Thigh Stretch
While standing on both feet hold onto a stable surface such as a wall. Grab your right ankle and bring your heel up to your bottom. Keep the top part of your right thigh in line with your left thigh. It should not be out forward, as that does not stretch the front thigh. Aim to have your knee pointing downward or slightly back. Repeat this movement on the left leg.
Hold the front thigh stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times.
Hip Flexor Stretch
To start this stretch kneel on the ground. Bring the right foot forward with your foot flat on the ground and right knee at a 90 degree angle. Push your hips forward and tighten the muscles in your buttocks. You should feel a stretch in the right hip. Maintain a straight upper body with shoulders parallel to the ground. Switch sides and repeat the movement on the left leg.
Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Moderate exercise when done on a regular basis can help relax muscles and lessen the symptoms of RLS. Aim for aerobic exercise or resistance training that trains the lower body. You will want to avoid intense workout routines and exercise before bedtime as it can worsen symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Ideally, you should exercise three times per week for 30 minutes to find the greatest benefit for restless legs syndrome. Try these exercises during the day to tire out your muscles so they don’t keep you up all night.
If you find your muscles are tense before exercise, Massage for Restless Leg Syndrome can be an effective solution.
Lie down and relax flat on your back. Raise your toes straight up to the ceiling and then point down as far as you can. Continue to pump your feet up and down to work your calves and get them ready for bed.
Perform this exercise ten to 15 times for two sets.
Bridges work your glutes, hamstrings, loosen up the lower back. Lie down flat on your back. Bring both knees up and keep your feet flat on the ground. Slowly lift your buttock off the ground, raising it upward. Continue until you have a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Pause at the top and then slowly lower your buttock to the ground.
Perform this exercise ten to twenty times.
Cycling or Swimming
Aerobic exercise calms RLS symptoms when done early in the day and at a moderate pace. Cycling is a low impact sport that will work your legs and get your heart rate up. If you have access to an indoor cycling facility then it can be done year-round. To prevent overstraining yourself, keep your speed at 10 miles per hour or below.
Swimming is also a great aerobic exercise that soothes muscles. The warm water will relax tense muscles and take the weight off of your legs helping to reduce restless leg syndrome pain. You should use a pool float to keep your legs off of the pool floor so you can stretch and move freely without the added impact. As with cycling, do not overdo it or your RLS symptoms can worsen. Swim laps with a friend or join a low impact water aerobics class to keep you motivated.
When and How Long to Stretch
Everyone is different in regards to when and how long they should stretch to reduce restless legs syndrome. Some people will need to stretch early in the morning, while others need to do it in the afternoon to loosen muscles before bed. Universally, everyone should avoid strenuous stretching and exercise before bed. This excites the muscle fibers and worsens RLS. Play around with timing and duration of stretching to find what works best for you. As you begin aim to stretch or exercise for 30 minutes per day working up to 60 minutes. If you find muscles are tense beforehand, massage is an effective way to loosen up muscles before stretching.
What to do for Restless Legs at Night
Managing RLS Symptoms Safely
Exercise is a safe and effective addition to the management of restless leg syndrome. When combined with medication, lifestyle changes, and other therapies, sufferers can find relief and finally get a full night of sleep without uncomfortable sensations in their legs. As with every medical condition and treatment be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin exercising. Restless legs syndrome doesn’t have to take over your night, try these exercises and finally get the rest you need.
SHOP RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME PRODUCTS
Stretching for Restless Legs
Pin it ” 0 Stretching is believed to be one of the potential ways to reduce restless leg symptoms, both before an attack and during.
Restless leg syndrome involves an intense feeling of unrest in your legs (and other parts of your body) that causes disruptive sensations and an uncontrollable desire to move.
These symptoms are relieved through movement, so those that experience RLS often start moving to reduce the symptoms.
Many people walk around, some people massage their legs, but one of the most commonly recommended types of movement is stretching.
Stretching and RLS – Before and During
There are two ways to use stretching to reduce RLS. The first is to stretch during an RLS attack. This relieves many of the negative sensations.
Others use stretching exercises for RLS prevention. While it should never be your only home method of reducing restless leg, it does appear that regular stretching may reduce the frequency and severity of RLS symptoms.
There doesn’t appear to be a difference between stretches for restless legs, but there also has not been a great deal of research into the area. At the moment, it’s best to assume that all stretches for RLS are created equal, and if you want to test out more specific stretches in order to see which ones relieve RLS better, you should consider talking it over with a physician.
Types of Stretching Exercises for RLS
You’re encouraged to get up and move or walk around as much as possible if you suffer from RLS. Movement, in general, is a form of stretching because it warms up your leg muscles. If you find yourself sitting too often during the day (such as behind a desk) make sure you stand up often and move around.
Other leg stretches are more about tiring the muscle, and can be focused on your entire leg or just the areas that appear to be most affected by your RLS.
More specific leg stretching exercises for RLS include:
Back Thigh Stretch
One type of stretch involves placing one leg on a high surface, like a couch, with your leg straight. Then, safely, bend forward with your back straight until you feel it stretch the muscle. Hold for a 15 or so seconds and switch legs.
Another stretch is a calf stretch. There are several types of calf stretches. One involves holding out your palms against a wall. You place your left foot behind your right foot by a few feet, almost as though you’re trying to push the wall and putting one foot back for leverage. With your back straight and your heals firmly against the floor, you bend your right knee so that it puts pressure on the calf and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
First you stand straight near something you can grab if you lose your balance. Then with your back straight you grab on leg by the foot and pull it up towards your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other foot.
Additional Stretching Exercises
It’s important to remember that none of these exercise has been specifically tested. In general, the idea is to simply safely stretch the muscle just as you would before exercising or jogging. Stretching essentially makes the muscle loose, so how you stretch is not necessarily as important (as long as it’s done safely) as the stretching itself.
Similarly, make sure you’re also stretching other muscles that affect you when you’re suffering from RLS. Some people experience RLS symptoms in their arms or trunk, and these may also be relieved by stretching.
Yoga can also be valuable, as yoga itself is a form of stretching that also has exercise and stress components that may also help with your RLS.
Regardless, always talk to your doctor before starting any RLS exercise program, especially if you have any physical limitations that could prevent you from stretching safely.
Stretching to Reduce Restless Leg Syndrome
The key is to make sure that you’re keeping your muscles tired. Stretching takes away some of the energy out of your muscles, and that energy reduction appears to be one of the ways to both relief restless leg and prevent it from occurring. It’s especially valuable as a way to nearly immediately reduce RLS symptoms, although many say that they come back when you lay down again.
Stretching before bed appears to be effective at preventing some RLS episodes, but only if it’s combined with other lifestyle changes. It does not appear that stretching can relieve RLS completely, or that there are any specific stretches that are better or worse for RLS, but more research is needed to be sure.