Those of you who have restless legs know what I’m talking about. The experience of restless legs syndrome began for me in the middle of high school, most often when I went to the movies or when at the theatre. I would begin to feel I needed to change my position in the seat, crossing and uncrossing my legs. The feeling would worsen the longer I was sitting; my legs would actually jump and finally I would have to get up to stretch to stop the feeling. Often my legs would ache simultaneously. For myself, I was lucky enough that the sensation stopped when I went to bed. However, not everyone is so lucky.
There is not one definitive cause associated with restless legs syndrome. However, there are many hypotheses. A very common source for restless legs is nutritional.
North American society is obsessed with getting the right amount of calcium in the diet, but what about calcium’s partner-in-crime magnesium? The second most abundant intracellular ion, magnesium deficiency is implicated in osteoporosis, angina, muscle cramping, and muscle rigidity.
Did you know…
Magnesium is often prescribed after heart attacks to prevent a recurrent episode (one heart attack can damage the heart muscle significantly, increasing risk for subsequent heart attacks. Magnesium supports the contractility of the heart while preventing it from having further fibrillations (fluttering).
Epsom salts are magnesium salts, so when you are asked to have an epsom salt bath after a massage it is to get magnesium into your muscles to help them relax from a state of contraction (calcium is a contractile ion in muscle, its opposition)
Hyperactivity of the nervous system
Another potential cause for restless leg syndrome is an overactivity of the nervous system. Conventionally, anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed to relieve restless legs. To calm the nervous system, I turn to…
Massage has been known to increase blood flow in the legs and to encourage nervous system relaxation as well as the breakdown of muscular tension.
While initial studies were inconclusive, acupuncture and its ability to support the nervous system and improve pain and tension from muscle cramping may still be effective.
Also known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is responsible for calming of the nervous system. Anti-anxiety medications actually work by binding to GABA receptors in the nervous system and mimic GABA, thereby calming the nervous system. GABA can actually be taken all on its own to have the same effects.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnatus)
A herb that is calming even in tea form, and known for sedating and calming effects and its ability to calm an overactive nervous system.
While we do not yet know the causes, restless legs do not have to leave you in agony. Trial and error is the very individual way of finding the cause for your restless legs.
Cui Y, Wang Y, Liu Z. Acupuncture for Restless Legs Syndrome.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Oct 8;(4):CD006457. Review.
Mitchell UH. Non-drug Related Aspects of Treating Ekbom Disease, Formerly Known as Restless Legs Syndrome.
Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2011;7:251-7. Epub 2011 May 6.
Rude RK, Singer FR, Gruber HE. Skeletal and Hormonal Effects of Magnesium Deficiency.
J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Apr;28(2):131-41.