Finding Out What Can Cause RLS
and What Will Really Work
If you've ever had restless legs or RLS, you know the aggravation- the "creepy-crawlies" that lead to uncontrolled jerks. My experiences with this may be of some help to some people that deal with this; I hope what I have been through the past several years can give at least some relief to those who decide to try what helped me.
I'll give you my experiences with this, as well as some of the things I have found out recently concerning some triggers and some supplements that could help. This is NOT a list of goofy-sounding home remedies; what I recommend actually addresses at least some of the causes of this condition. I have seen restless legs referred to as a disease and even a brain disorder. I personally don't believe either, as you will see.
I have always been convinced that every condition has a cause and that it can be corrected, whether medical science knows the cause or not. Your body does things for reasons, and I just don't take the line "medical science doesn't know why" lying down! There ARE reasons for RLS, and at least some of them aren't all that mysterious. And I welcome any input from any of you that may have found other things that have helped.
Note: When I first posted this, I was unaware that many experience pain with RLS, what I call Restless Legs Plus. As far as I'm concerned, they need to call the version with pain something else. Logically, restless legs should just be restless legs. I have never had the pain, just a little tingling and itching along with the urge to move. If you are one that deals with pain along with the jerking, medication may be your only recourse. I can't imagine dealing with the kind of pain that many of you have. RLS apparently has many triggers. Some of the most common ones are listed here, things that you can at least try in order to manage your symptoms. If your RLS is mild to moderate and doesn't involve pain, you may actually be able to get free from most of it.
What follows is a brief rundown of my experiences.
Photo of legs is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
Trying to Find Help
MD or Chiropractor?
Next stop was the MD who did the predictable- prescribed muscle relaxants and pain killers, (strictly symptomatic relief) and told me to come back when the pills were gone if it was still a problem. Then he asked, "How good is your insurance?" I didn't much care for that question; ours wouldn't pay for an MRI. Things got no better, so I started asking around about which direction to go- the MD route or chiropractor, and I opted for the latter, figuring they would actually push things back where they belong.
I had x-rays done, and this is when I found out I had scoliosis, a rather belated diagnosis at 52. That along with years of back abuse added up to a really messed up back. I started in on chiropractic treatments regularly with the promise that they could at least help, and they did in more ways than one.
Doctor image is free clip art from clker.com.
I Could Have Danced All Night
and Often Did
Slowly, as the chiropractor got my back straightened out, RLS symptoms began to recede. The straighter my back got, the better RLS got. And a real bonus- I had dealt with irritable bowel for years and years, and those symptoms also all but disappeared. I know it sounds hoaky, and you could never have convinced me of a connection if I hadn't experienced it for myself.
After doing some online looking around, it appears that chiropractic treatment is a popular route to relief from RLS. It does seem like the logical route to take to work on the cause, and not just the symptoms. Speaking from experience, I can say that adjustments have without a doubt made a huge difference for me, and now I've found more evidence online that this is the best way to go.
Several years ago I decided to make a couple purchases. I found a Posture Pump on Ebay to help put a curve back in my neck, and also got a Teeter Hang Ups to help stretch out my lower back. The inversion table has been great to help keep pressure off those nerves that trigger restless legs. Lately, I have started using it every evening before bedtime, and it has made a huge difference for me. I am hard on my back, bending over a lot, so the inversion table has been a real lifesaver. For clarification, the Posture Pump does nothing for the lower back or RLS; it is strictly for neck problems. I bought it because I have had issues from the neck down for years.
Pointe shoes photo is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
Another doctor in the chiropractor's office gave me exercises to strengthen the muscles around the spine so the adjustments would stay put, and they worked wonders. I have found that the more faithful I am to do the exercises, the less I deal with RLS. Lower back issues are definitely one of the things that cause leg jerking in me, no question.
You can find some back exercises here at the Mayo Clinic website, or at WebMD. Or you can look at these three exercises that seem to help me quite a bit- the bird dog, the bridge and the clam. The doctor gave me these three exercises specifically several years ago, and I have found all three at about.com.
A book I have run across is How to Deal With Back Pain and Rheumatoid Joint Pain by Fereydoon Batmanghelidj . The emphasis of this book is on the necessity of water for your body to function properly, but he also includes quite a few exercises for lower back that may help some of you. You can get used copies for very little at amazon.com.
Exercise icon is free image from clker.com.
In addition to having pressure on those leg nerves, it seems that there are dietary triggers that can make things even worse. Anything that stimulates the nervous system can trigger RLS, including caffeine, sugar and chocolate (which has caffeine AND sugar, a double-whammy). And don't forget that refined flour is converted to sugar almost immediately in your body, so bread, crackers, cereal and pasta made from refined flour may trigger symptoms as well.
Fruit must also be restricted because of the fructose content, though that varies. You can check online for the sugar content of various fruits and find out which ones have less fructose. (Tip- bananas are very high. Eliminate those, and you may even lose weight! Berries and melons are generally safer choices.) Fruit juice is marketed as healthy but it is loaded with fructose, making it a real health robber by loading your system with sugar and exacerbating weight gain.
If you decide to eliminate sugar and caffeine, it may take longer than a day or 2 to get it out of your system. I don't know about that aspect; just don't give up too soon, especially if you're a heavy caffeine and/or sugar consumer. I know how much people drink sodas and consume carbs, and the addiction aspect (to sugar and caffeine both) may be an issue here. As for chocolate, the caffeine content is relatively insignificant, but I know from experience how it affects me.
Some have reported that artificial sweeteners (aspartame and Equal specifically) affect the nervous system and thus aggravate RLS. Eliminating those from your diet is a good idea on any front, but a real plus for RLS sufferers. Aspartame is manufactured by Monsanto, a chemical company, if this is any indicator of its effects on health!
Update: I have noticed that the better I am at just avoiding sugar and refined flour altogether, the less RLS acts up at night. I am beginning to think that RLS sufferers would be well advised to work on eliminating sugar and refined flour altogether, particularly if the jerking is severe. This could be a hidden trigger since sugar is hidden in so many products. For a list of some of the foods you might not think about (like peanut butter) look at my blog post The Science of Weight Loss where a low-carb diet is recommended. The more I shoot for a low-carb diet, the better I do at night; I am liking that whole concept more and more.
Sugar image is free clip art from clker.com.
. . .a hidden trigger you might miss
And you can most certainly rethink the need for these medications in spite of the scare tactics your doctor may use on you. For more information, see my post Cholesterol: Mother of All Scams, and Alzheimer's, Dementia and Statins where you will find some of the most recent information about the side effects of these drugs as well as lots of links for more help. There are articles galore that will give you the truth about statin drugs and the whole cholesterol theory. Check out Stopped Our Statins for a starter (they also have a yahoo group and a facebook page), then check out spacedoc.com. These are the best starter sites to get yourself educated; the medical industry won't do it for you.
There are several other types of medications with RLS as a side effect. You can find a list at Medications That Cause Restless Legs, an article at ehow.com. What alerted me to this aspect was when I realized that RLS no longer bothered my mother after we switched her doctor and she was taken off all her medications. (Migraine headaches were gone, too.)
And because of the stimulants in many daytime cold and allergy relief medications, don't overlook any of those. Take careful inventory of everything you consume and look for anything that acts as a stimulant.
Pill bottle photo is free image from Wikimedia Commons.
pH and Alkalinity
Another benefit of these minerals is their alkalizing properties. I'm not sure about the connection between an acidic diet and RLS, but I did find one site where a woman claims her RLS along with a whole list of other ailments were all relieved when she changed to an alkaline diet:
I would like to answer the question, "Does it really work". YES!!! It works like a miracle! I suffered for years with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, dizziness, ulcers, restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, irregular heart beat and more health problems than I have room to list here! I got my body to a healthy PH and immediately my problems began to leave one by one. . . . Sue at High Alkaline Diet: Does It Really Help? Or Is it a Myth? (emphasis mine)Once you eliminate the possibility of drug side effects as a cause of your RLS, I would recommend that you make sure your mineral intake is adequate, and you might want to look into the benefits of the alkaline diet. An overload of protein in your diet will drain your system of vital alkalizing minerals, and that could cause muscle problems. You can find out more in my blog post Protein, pH and the Alkaline Diet where you will find basic information along with other links.
I just recently found a site that links RLS with various vitamin and mineral deficiencies, magnesium in particular. In this article, she explains that the standard 2:1 calcium:magnesium ratio is wrong. You need to read this one- Natural Remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome. Too much calcium will eventually result in a magnesium deficiency, surprisingly enough. ( I know because I did it!) Minerals have to work in balance.
In that same vein, I ran across an article at Livestrong.com that says this about a magnesium deficiency:
One of the minerals important for regulating how muscles contract and relax is magnesium. Because this mineral is important for muscle function, one of the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency is muscle cramps. The other signs and symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, nausea and vomiting, insomnia and restless leg syndrome (emphasis mine).Magnesium could prove to be a very effective treatment for RLS in some people. It seems that so very often our physical issues stem from things we've essentially done to ourselves, and mineral deficiencies are so easy to fix. Personally, I experienced irregular heartbeat and got to wondering if I'd overdone the calcium which I'd been on for years. With that and restless legs, I got to thinking that perhaps a magnesium deficiency could be a real possibility here. Using topical magnesium seems to help; time will tell.
Statins are prescribed as a matter of course for cholesterol any more, and there is overwhelming evidence that the drugs block the synthesis of CoQ10, a necessary nutrient for muscle function as well as a powerful antioxidant. Without CoQ10 supplementation, statins can eventually destroy your muscles. One of the first side effects of the drugs that many people experience is a growing inability to pull themselves up out of a chair, as well as muscle aches. Many doctors are now recommending CoQ10 if they prescribe statins, which got me to wondering if the supplement might help with RLS, especially if the RLS sufferer is taking the drug. CoQ10 might be worth a try on the supplement front, though so far I can find nothing online linking the two- this is strictly speculation on my part.
One more supplement I have run across that has helped someone is L-arginine, a supplement that improves blood flow to your legs. I found this at a forum called Health Unlocked. The person who posted this never did respond, so I don't know what dosage was used.
Calcium supplements is free photo from Wikimedia Commons.
If you are game, you might try some herbs that apparently have helped some people. I personally have not tried any of these, and if you are under a doctor's care for RLS, you should consult with them before trying any of these. You can find recommendations in the site 9 Herbal Remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome.
Iron and Dopamine
There is apparently a connection between iron uptake, dopamine and restless legs. This is an aspect I haven't explored myself, so I will include a link to one site that has quite a bit of information on this, a page at Progressive Health called Restless Leg Syndrome and Iron. Lots of people who have dealt with RLS for years are up on this one; I am not.
Here is one good link that I just found at an RLS forum: Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome, an article that discusses both iron and dopamine as they relate to RLS.
The Inflammation Connection
Here's an article from 2014 at Natural News- You Won't Believe This Hidden Cause of Restless Leg Syndrome- that recounts the results of recent studies that indicate inflammation may be a major player as a cause for RLS. The author Brad Chase lists inflammatory foods to be avoided, and anti-inflammatory foods that may help. Which brings me to an important point- everything that goes in your mouth will create a reaction in your body one way or another. Our processed food, carb-heavy diet could reasonably be blamed for much of our chronic disease trouble, among other troubles. Your body doesn't do anything without a reason- it's reacting to something, and diet could very easily be a major contender for the root cause of RLS. According to this article, inflammation triggered by poor diet could be at the root of iron deficiencies and thus dopamine uptake problems.
and Hang Up the Dancing Shoes
1. Eliminate the possibility of RLS as a medication side effect, statins in particular since they are so widely prescribed now. Also consider OTC medications like day-time cold and allergy relief products that have stimulants in them.
2. Start working on getting your sugar and caffeine consumption reduced. Less is more- the less you consume, the more rest you will get at night, and if RLS is severe, seriously consider eliminating them altogether. I highly recommend looking into a low-carb diet to eliminate sugar and restrict flour products and other starchy foods to a minimum.
3. Try mineral supplements. One indication of a calcium deficiency is muscle twitches and spasms, but a magnesium deficiency will do the same, and apparently a magnesium deficiency is much more common than a calcium deficiency. And there is the possibility that if you have taken calcium supplements for years, you could easily have a magnesium deficiency, just because the recommended ration of 2:1 is quite wrong. Get a type that is readily absorbed like calcium or magnesium citrate. Magnesium is available as a topical spray; this will avoid the diarrhea complications with the oral kind and I have seen on various forums that magnesium has been a huge help for many.
4. Then, if you can afford it or if your insurance will go for it, get thee to the chiropractor, especially if you are hard on your lower back. If you are, then you may want to move this step to the number 2 position on the list. It may take more than a couple visits to get results; your chiropractor can probably give you an idea, especially if you have x-rays done. If you find that adjustments help, you may want to invest in your own inversion table like I did. Using the inversion table every evening has been the most effective treatment I have found for myself. Occasional use didn't do much; I have found that consistent use in the evening works the best for me.
If you either can't or choose not to try a chiropractor, follow the links above to find lower back exercises. They do help, and that's quite free. The chiropractor told me that some people are helped with adjustments, but others aren't. I wonder if those people don't know that sugar, refined flour and caffeine can trigger jerking, or perhaps are on medications that cause RLS. More than likely there are multiple triggers working.
If you are overweight you could easily have at least a couple triggers going here, the first being refined flour and sugar, and possibly caffeine if you drink carbonated drinks and/or sports drinks. The foods that put on weight are the ones that can trigger RLS. Don't forget fruit juices- they are absolutely loaded with fructose, and there is hidden sugar in most processed foods. Then there is the lower back aspect- extra weight will strain your back (think pregnancy!) and that can put extra pressure on those nerves that trigger RLS.
Treating RLS with medication only treats the symptoms while these other recommendations will get to some of the causes. If you are dealing with a lot of meds and depend on them for relief, perhaps some of these recommendations will allow you to cut back and manage symptoms a little better. I hope this will help you to approach the condition with a certain amount of logic allowing some of you to actually find some real relief and finally get a good night's sleep. Doctors may not know what causes RLS, but there are things you can do yourself to manage known triggers. And it's hard telling how much better some of you may feel if you do a serious diet change that eliminates processed foods and majors in real, whole food. Don't forget- everything you put in your mouth will trigger a reaction in your body for good or for bad. You have a lot more control over your health than you might realize.
How to Treat RLS with Chiropractic Care
An interview with Dr. Eugene Goldberg on why chiropractic works for RLS.
Nutrients and Chiropractic Help
The first link is a great article that suggests a magnesium deficiency among others as possible causes, a must-read. An internet search for chiropractic and restless leg syndrome turns up quite a few sites that both recommend and explain the process.
Natural Remedies for Restless Leg Syndrome- Great article on possible nutrient deficiencies that may trigger restless legs, magnesium in particular.
ChiroCenter- Jack C. Adrian DC website that does a good job of explaining why chiropractic can help RLS.
The Chiropractic Journal- Restless legs syndrome: A chiropractic deficiency?
Chiropractic Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome- Chiropractor Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome by Russ Buchanan, eHow Contributor
How to Deal with Back Pain and Rheumatoid Joint Pain by Fereydoon Batmanghelidj The author goes into quite a bit of detail about how the spine is built and functions. Recommended exercises are built around the need to get the spine back into its proper position.
Alzheimer's, Dementia and Statins- Statins are dangerous drugs that cause memory loss and muscle damage.
Cholesterol- Mother of All Scams- The whole cholesterol scare has been based on faulty research and has been exploited by pharmaceutical companies to keep an otherwise healthy population on their drugs.
Protein, pH and the Alkaline Diet- How the pH of the food you eat affects your health.
Breakfast Cereal Diets- Really??- Why eating cereal can't possibly help you lose weight for the long term.
"Healthy" Foods That Aren't- Several foods that are perceived as healthy but really aren't.
Six Ways to Take Charge of Your Health- Six different things I found as I started my research into health through nutrition.
Sugar- The Real Villain- This was my first blog post on this subject; some information is repetitive, but there are other points made, as well as links and a list of sugar substitutes.
They Told Me He's a Quack- Several people I have found out about that have gone against the tide of public opinion and "expert" advice and have given thousands of people help and hope.
The Dumb American Diet Is Killing Us- The way most Americans eat has resulted in a population of obese, chronically sick people.
Water for Health- Why we need water to stay healthy.
Why You Can't Trust the Medical Industry- The entire medical industry has been corrupted by greed. It pays to be skeptical.
Hormone Balance and Estrogen Dominance- Regularly prescribed HRT has serious side effects; there is an alternative.
Arthritis and Osteoporosis: They CAN Be Reversed- Two conditions that can be reversed naturally as proven by doctors who have treated their patients with natural supplements.
Phonics and Dyslexia- Information that can help dyslexic adults as well as children, and a post about the phonics-whole language wars and why phonics wins every time hands-down.
Quill pen is free image from Wikimedia Commons.