Restless Leg Syndrome is a condition that disrupts your sleep and can affect the quality of your life. It’s also incredibly annoying. You’re exhausted after a long and stressful day and all you want to do is get into bed for eight hours of blissful sleep. Unfortunately, your legs think otherwise. Once you lie down and relax, they begin their nightly dance. They may feel jittery or jumpy, uncomfortable, or like they just need to move. The bottom line is that your legs are active, and it’s hard for you to fall or stay asleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome is best described as an uncomfortable need to move your legs. It occurs when you sit or lie down, and is most problematic at night because it disturbs your sleep. Also called RLS, Restless Leg Syndrome is considered to be a neurological condition as well as a sleep disorder. It affects about ten percent of adults, and occurs in more women than men. It’s more prevalent in middle aged and older people than those under the age of 30. RLS affects some pregnant women, especially later in their pregnancy, but the symptoms tend to resolve in most women after delivery.
Researchers have found an increased risk for RLS in people who have other health conditions, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, or peripheral neuropathy. In addition, it tends to run in families. Health experts also suspect certain vitamin deficiencies and drug side-effects. The presence of varicose veins also seems to play a role in RLS. In a study of patients with both RLS and varicose veins, researchers found that treating the varicose veins alleviated RLS symptoms in 98 percent of the subjects.
From the standpoint of Chinese medicine, Restless Leg Syndrome is frequently diagnosed as poor circulation. This is supported by the fact that symptoms seem to ramp up when patients sit or lie down and their circulation slows. In addition, the relationship between varicose veins and RLS symptoms support hindered circulation as a factor. However, some patients with RLS symptoms may be diagnosed in Chinese medicine as being physically depleted, whether from lack of good sleep, pregnancy, working too hard, or a poor diet.
The good news is that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be an effective treatment for sufferers of RLS, and the preliminary research is bearing this out. In one study, scientists measured the leg activity of patients with Restless Leg symptoms and found significantly reduced movement in the subjects who were treated with standard acupuncture. There are a number of physiological changes that occur during acupuncture that may explain why it’s effective for RLS. Acupuncture increases circulation, both locally where the needles are placed, as well as systemically. It also affects your brain chemistry to increase the circulation of calming and mood enhancing neurotransmitters that enhance sleep.
If you seek out acupuncture for your RLS symptoms, your practitioner may include additional healing strategies in your treatment plan, such as Chinese herbs, heat therapy, and dietary modifications. In addition, they may suggest lifestyle changes, such as gentle exercise during the day, a change in sleeping position, cutting out foods and drinks that affect your sleep, stress relief measures, and tracking the factors that aggravate your symptoms. The upside is that while it’s not completely understood by biomedicine, Chinese medicine can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.