Restless Legs or Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) , also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), is a common condition affecting the nervous system. As many as one in ten people are affected by restless legs syndrome at some point in their life. Women are twice as likely to develop restless legs syndrome than men. The condition is also more common in middle age, but the symptoms can develop at any age, including childhood.
It causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs, and occasionally the arms. It also causes an unpleasant feeling in the feet, calves and thighs, which is often felt as a crawling or creeping sensation. The sensation is often worse in the evening or at night.
Restless legs syndrome is also associated with involuntary jerking of the legs and arms, known as periodic limb movements, and can be mild or severe. Some people have symptoms now and again, while others have them every day.
There is no obvious cause of restless legs syndrome. Doctors may refer to this as idiopathic RLS, or primary RLS. This type of restless legs syndrome can run in families.
Some neurologists (experts in treating conditions that affect the nervous system) share the opinion that symptoms may have something to do with how the body handles a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in controlling muscle movement and may be responsible for the involuntary leg movements associated with restless legs syndrome.
Some cases of restless legs syndrome are caused by an underlying health condition, such as iron deficiency anaemia, or kidney failure. There is also a link between restless legs syndrome and pregnancy and around one in five pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last three months of their pregnancy, although it is not clear exactly why. In this case, it often goes away once the woman has given birth. However other women also often experience this during certain parts of their menstrual cycle and during menopause.
It can be a frustrating condition, especially at night when you are trying to get to sleep. Mild cases of restless legs syndrome that are not linked to an underlying health condition may not require any treatment other than making a few lifestyle changes, such as:
- adopting a good sleep pattern – i.e. sleeping regular hours and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late at night
- exercising regularly during the daytime
If the symptoms are more severe, medication may be needed to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in the body. This is where Reflexology can help – Reflexology is a natural non-invasive therapy that can help to balance the hormones in the body. Dopamine is a neurohormone that is released by the hypothalamus, so a reflexology treatment and by wearing the Revs reflexology shoes, can massage and stimulate the hypothalamus to promote homeostasis.
If restless legs syndrome is caused by iron deficiency anaemia, for example, then iron supplements may be all that is needed to treat the symptoms. You should look at your diet and check you are eating enough iron-rich foods. Heavy periods in women may also cause anemia, so again reflexology could help to balance the menstrual cycle. If you have problems with your intestines, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, reflexology can help to ease the pain, reduce the inflammation in your colon and in turn encourage more iron absorption.