by Stephen Janz Clinic Director Kenmore Centre for Health
This article outlines drug free treatments including acupuncture which may reduce the symptoms of restless leg syndrome and improve sleep.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) gets its name from the uncontrollable urge to move the legs to relieve discomfort or pain. It is usually worse at the end of the day when lying down or trying to get to sleep. This discomfort may be described as burning, tingling or a cramp-like ache in the legs, especially the calves. RLS is not uncommon affecting about 10% of the population and can vary from mildly annoying to debilitating.
RLS is categorised as a asleep disorder as it can disturb sleep enough to lead to exhaustion and daytime fatigue. Untreated, moderate to severe RLS can lead to anxiety and depression and in the US has been calculated to result in a 20% reduction is workplace productivity.
In most cases the cause of RLS is unknown, although up to 50% of people have a family history of RLS suggesting genetic factors. This is called primary restless legs syndrome. In secondary restless legs syndrome the condition is associated with some other illness or condition such as iron deficiency anaemia, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, advanced kidney disease, some medications, and the last trimester of pregnancy. Addressing these underlying factors in secondary RLS can improve symptoms. In the case of pregnancy symptoms usually resolve a few weeks after giving birth. RLS may not need any treatment if symptoms are mild, do not produce significant daytime discomfort, or do not affect an individual’s ability to fall asleep.
There is no cure for RLS, so treatment targets the symptoms. Standard treatment varies from lifestyle factors to medications. Eliminating alcohol, tobacco and caffeine may help some people. Deficiencies of iron, folate or magnesium should be treated. For more severe cases a range of medications can be prescribed. Because these medications act on the nervous system they may have some unacceptable side effects. For this reason people often look for non-drug alternatives.
Drug Free Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome
Researchers have investigated the role of non-drug therapy in managing RLS and have made some encouraging findings. RLS symptoms may improve with acupuncture, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, regular moderate exercise, compression devices, counter-strain manipulation and/or infrared therapy. Vibration pads, cryotherapy, yoga, compression devices, and acupuncture may also be used to improve sleep for individuals with RLS.
Acupuncture for Restless Legs Syndrome
Several studies have found acupuncture to be an effective approach for some as it targets both movement symptoms and sleep. A benefit of acupuncture is it can be used on its own in mild cases or in addition to other strategies increasing treatment options in more severe cases. In clinic we have found that improvement occurs by about four treatments if acupuncture is going to be helpful for RLS.
People experiencing symptoms of restless legs should see their doctor to ensure there is no underlying cause requiring specific treatment, otherwise the suggestions in this article may reduce the need for medication and help to restore a more restful night’s sleep. Never put up with symptoms that can reduce quality of life when treatment options are available.
Restless Legs Syndrome. Health Direct. Updated Dec 2019. Accessed October 2019. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/restless-legs-syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health (US) Bethesda, MD 20892 accessed October 2019 https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/restless-legs-syndrome-fact-sheet
Restless legs syndrome (RLS). Better Health Channel. updated June 2014. Accessed October 2019 https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/restless-legs-syndrome-rls
Restless Legs Syndrome. Brain Foundation. Accessed October 2019 https://brainfoundation.org.au/disorders/restless-legs-syndrome/#targetText=Restless%20Legs%20Syndrome%20(RLS)%20is,or%20a%20creeping%2C%20crawling%20feeling.
Fukutome T. Acupuncture point injection markedly improved sensory symptoms and motor signs in 2 patients with restless legs syndrome. Clinical Case Reports. 2018 Jul;6(7): 1353-1357 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6028364/#ccr31619-bib-0009
Harrison E., Keating J., Morgan P. Non-pharmacological interventions for restless legs syndrome: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Disability and Rehabilitation. 2019 Aug;41(17):2006-2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29561180
Pan W, Wang M, Li M, et al. Actigraph evaluation of acu-puncture for treating restless legs syndrome. Evid BasedComplement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:343201 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339862/
Xu X., Liu Y., Jia S., Dong M., Cao D., Wei Y. Complementary and alternative therapies for restless legs syndrome: An evidence-based systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2018 Apr;38:158-167 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28886918
Oka Y, Ioue Y. Secondary restless legs syndrome Brain Nerve. 2009 May;61(5):539-47. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19514514
Yee B., Killick R., Wong K. Restless legs syndrome. Australian Family Physician. Sleep Volume 38, No.5, May 2009 Pages 296-300. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2009/may/restless-legs-syndrome/