The AMA classifies restless leg syndrome (RLS) as a sleep disorder, despite the fact that the symptoms appear when the sufferer is wide awake.
RLS affects the nerves and has been described by one sufferer as the “itchy-twitchies.” It is characterized by itching--as if bugs were crawling under the skin–and involuntary leg movements. In a waking state, the sensation results in compulsory leg movement to alleviate the symptoms.
When asleep, the RLS sufferer will kick as nerves misfire, or hyper fire. Known as periodic limb movement (PLM), the leg muscles contract. This is repeated approximately three times a minute for periods of up to an hour. The cycle is repeated every two hours.
The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease
An estimated 12 million people in the U.S. suffer from RLS. Consumer Reports sets the figures slightly lower, at 3 percent of the population, or 9,210,196. It is suspected that some diagnoses of ADHA (attention-deficit hyperactive disorder) may, in fact, be RLS.
RLS can be viewed as a whole-body ailment. It is often associated with lung and heart disease.
Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco consumption are considered contributing factors, as is lack of exercise. Caffeine and alcohol intake should be restricted. Regular exercise is recommended.
According to Consumer Reports, prescription medications, such as Requip, cost $60 a month. Requip (ropinirole) was originally developed for Parkinson's disease. Side effects include faintness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and “intense urges.” A Mayo Clinic study revealed that compulsive gambling appeared in participants who took ropinirole when they had no previous history of gambling.
When the best cure medical science has to offer is worse than the disease, it is time to look for other treatments.
The Natural Solution
One alternative may be essential oils that contain the volatile oil derived from plants. Lavender and chamomile both have sedative qualities.
Sprigs of lavender placed under a pillow can be used to treat insomnia. The scent of chamomile is another calmative.
Four drops of essential oil is mixed with a carrier oil (sweet almond, olive, grape seed). The mixture is then rubbed into the legs.
A drop of lavender or chamomile can be placed on a light bulb or in a candle to increase overall relaxation during the evening hours. Placed on the pillow case, these oils may prevent the interrupted sleep cycle that results from PLM.
Other essential oils have been used successfully. These include marjoram, valerian and vertiver.
Marjoram oil is analgesic, anti-spasmodic and sedative. It is slightly warming, which adds to the soothing effects.
Valerian, as an herbal supplement, is a well-known sleep aide. However, valerian smells horrible and some may find the stench of the resultant massage oil off-putting.
One little known essential oil is vertiver. Derived from the roots of the Gramineae, a member of the grass family, it is an extremely relaxing oil. Vertiver is used to treat muscle spasms, insomnia, muscle pain and extreme anxiety.
More Essentials of RLS
Neroli oil is an extract from the flowers of Citrus aurantium var. amara, and smells like orange blossom. It relieves muscle spasms and helps with heart palpitations.
Ylang-ylang also has a calming effect. It is both an antidepressent and a sedative. Because of its sweet aroma, ylang-ylang is often added to bath water.
No matter which one is used, all essential oils must be diluted, either in oil or in water. Since the oil must be used when the individual is awake and moving about, grape seed oil is recommended as a carrier. It is less greasy than either olive or sweet almond oil; therefore it is less likely to stain furniture, clothing or sheets.
No more than four drops of the essential oil should be added to a hot bath, three drops of oil for a foot bath. Cutting the essential oil with carrier will increase the benefits for the skin. A hot soak will further enhance relaxation.
Treating All Aspects of the Disease
RLS is a whole body ailment that requires a multidisciplinary approach. Reduce or eliminate contributing factors from the diet–such as alcohol and caffeine. Get some exercise. Walk three times a week for at least 30 minutes. An over-the-counter sleep aid containing valarian taken before bed may eliminate the interruption of sleep cycle. During the day, drink calming teas, such as chamomile, rather than coffee. Valerian, like chamomile, can be found as a tea. However, the smell is atrocious, making the tea unpalatable to some people. In addition, calcium and magnesium are both sedative. Drink milk or take a combined calcium-magnesium supplement.