Restless Leg Syndrome and What to Do About It

What is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

It’s a com­mon com­plaint — you’re lying in bed at night and your legs cramp painful­ly.  They jerk and undu­late in a way you can’t con­trol.  You mas­sage your legs, or get out of bed to walk around in the hope of achiev­ing relief.

The pain itself can be bad enough.  But rest­less leg syn­drome also keeps you awake at night, and the lack of sleep cre­ates a fur­ther cycle of prob­lems.

How Much Do We Understand the Cause of Restless Leg Syndrome?

A thor­ough sur­vey of the med­ical knowl­edge about rest­less leg syn­drome has appeared in a recent Med­scape arti­cle.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I can’t include a link to it, since only med­ical pro­fes­sion­als can sign up for access to the “health pro­fes­sion­al” area with­in Med­scape.   Instead, I’ll sum­ma­rize some of the knowl­edge here.

Frankly, the caus­es of Rest­less Leg Syn­drome are still a mys­tery.  One area that researchers are now turn­ing atten­tion to is the bal­ance of sig­nal­ing chem­i­cals deep in the brain as a pos­si­ble con­trib­u­tor to RLS.

Like in every oth­er area of med­i­cine, a diag­nos­tic cat­e­go­ry like Rest­less Leg Syn­drome masks many sub-vari­eties which we’re only begin­ning to tease apart.

Eliminate RLS Triggers as Much as Possible

Some peo­ple find that caf­feine or alco­hol trig­gers RLS symp­toms.  If you suf­fer with rest­less leg syn­drome, try elim­i­nat­ing these and see if your con­di­tion improves.  You might dis­cov­er your own unique trig­ger foods that you’ll need to elim­i­nate, too.

A vari­ety of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts can exac­er­bate RLS, too.  Check with your doc­tor if you take pre­scrip­tion drugs.

How Do Medical Doctors Treat Restless Leg Syndrome?

There are many drugs used in the treat­ment of rest­less leg syn­drome.  One of the main class­es of drugs that’s pre­scribed is “dopamine ago­nists.”  They mim­ic the effect of the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter dopamine on brain cells.

Anoth­er drug strat­e­gy that can be used for RLS is to mim­ic the effect of some anti-epilep­sy drugs.  And there are oth­er drug types used too.

For severe rest­less leg syn­drome that’s unre­spon­sive to any oth­er inter­ven­tion, opi­oids can also be used.

Restless Leg Syndrome Home Remedies

Iron defi­cien­cy has been linked to rest­less leg syn­drome, so you could have your iron lev­el checked.  Or try an iron sup­ple­ment.

Qui­nine is also known to be effec­tive for many peo­ple with RLS, so you could try keep­ing a bot­tle of ton­ic water by your bed.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the amount of qui­nine in ton­ic water falls short of what is med­ical­ly con­sid­ered a “ther­a­peu­tic dose.”  There’s a pre­scrip­tion drug with a high­er lev­el of qui­nine that your med­ical doc­tor might pre­scribe for you.

Some prac­ti­tion­ers sug­gest cal­ci­um, mag­ne­sium, and oth­er min­er­al sup­ple­ments to address rest­less leg syn­drome.  It makes sense that these might work, since the right bal­ance of min­er­als sta­bi­lizes nerve and mus­cle mem­branes, thus keep­ing them from ran­dom­ly dis­charg­ing.

I’ve tried this approach myself with some of my patients, though with­out much luck.  It may be that I didn’t fol­low through with this approach con­sis­tent­ly enough.

Anoth­er strat­e­gy is stretch­ing your calves.  I’m all in favor of stretch­ing, but I haven’t seen it put a dent in RLS.

Myofascial Therapy for Restless Leg Syndrome

The most effec­tive approach to RLS that I’ve found is deep con­nec­tive tis­sue treat­ment or myofas­cial ther­a­py.  The treat­ment loosens up deep knots in the mus­cles, and, through feed­back cir­cuit­ry, it may also have a ben­e­fi­cial effect on the brain.  I treat patients twice a week for 3 weeks or so.

I’m not the only prac­ti­tion­er who’s report­ed suc­cess treat­ing RLS this way.  Here’s a link to a case report pub­lished in the Jour­nal Of Body­work and Move­ment Ther­a­pies.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health arti­cle on Rest­less Leg Syn­drome

Link to RLS Foun­da­tion

Paul Ingraham’s e-book on self-care of trig­ger points and myofas­cial pain syn­dromes


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About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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One Response to Restless Leg Syndrome and What to Do About It

  1. George Blomme says:

    Read­ers should know that an effec­tive new pre­scrip­tion drug for Rest­less Leg Syn­drome was intro­duced about 5 or more years ago. Its called Requip (‘Ropinole’ gener­ic). I start­ed with a 1mg tablet at bed­time; I quick­ly changed to a 3mg tablet at bed­time to effec­tive­ly con­trol my rest­less legs. Dosages up to 5mg tablets are avail­able.

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