Restless Legs Syndrome affects many people who are trying to get a good night’s sleep. The uncontrollable compulsion to move the legs and uncomfortable sensations can lead many to seek medical treatment. Chiropractic can offer an alternative to traditional medicines. When a Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) patient is resting or relaxing, they may have sensations in their legs, which include “creeping, crawling, tingling, burning, or pain in the lower limbs”. This can lead to “pacing, shaking, or rubbing the limbs” or a general compulsion to move the legs; however, this only provides temporary relief to a person suffering from RLS. Interestingly, the less relaxed or comfortable a patient is, the less likely they will experience symptoms. This could even lead some patients to “sleep on a hard floor”. Severity of symptoms might also vary based on the patient’s level of tiredness and environment. Patients may also avoid long car rides, movies, or any “prolonged sitting” activities. RLS can be a very stressful disorder, and it leads to sleep deprivation. Often, even after patients have fallen asleep, they are awoken again by their restless legs.1 This disorder affect 2.5-15% of the population, and at least 20% of pregnant women and dialysis patients. If a patient does not move voluntarily to reduce the urgent sensations in the legs, “involuntary spastic movements or twitches may occur”. The sensation is not necessarily relieved by some movement, either. The restlessness in the legs often continues to last throughout the night, with little relief provided by moving the legs.2
Traditional Treatments for RLS
Doctors may look first for varicose veins and iron deficiency. They will ask a patient to reduce caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, and they will suggest increased exercise. Even a patient who perfectly follows these guidelines will not always get their relaxation when the time for bed comes.3 Typically, medical doctors will advise a patient to take “dopaminergic agents, opiates, and sedatives”. Unfortunately, these do not always work, and they can have side-effects.4 Requip is a medication approved for RLS, as the disorder may be related to dopamine. It is a medication that has provided relief for some patients, though dosage is different for each person. Requip is meant to relieve or reduce symptoms long enough for the patient to fall asleep and stay asleep. Expenses associated with purchasing enough medication over the course of a few years might be more than the patient wants to pay.5
Chiropractic Alternatives for RLS
Some chiropractors may recommend nutritional supplements, including tryptophan, vitamin E, and folic acid. Patients will typically be asked to avoid caffeine, as well. Recently, there has been a theory that patients may be iron-deficient. G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN recommends absorbing “60-90 mg of elemental iron daily”, on an “empty stomach, and with 100 mg of vitamin C”.6 Magnesium is a natural mineral that plays a role in the body’s ability to regulate nerve and muscle function and contributes to a healthy immune system. Deficiency of this important mineral could cause problems with the conduction of nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and muscle cramps. Some research has pointed to magnesium deficiency being the cause of certain cases of restless legs syndrome. Magnesium supplements seem to “make it easier for muscles to relax”. The mineral is also supposed to help improve the insomnia that comes with restless legs syndrome. Side effects of taking too much magnesium are stomach and bowel upset. High doses are dangerous, so a doctor should be consulted to find the right supplement dosage. The amount taken by the patient should not be more than prescribed unless approved by a doctor. Magnesium is not a medication, it is a natural supplement in which some patients are deficient.7 Muscle movement is controlled by nerves. Some chiropractors suggest that irritated or compressed nerves, caused by misalignment of the vertebrae, will lead to a nerve misfiring, which “causes the muscles to twitch or jerk”. Chiropractic adjustments may help these RLS patients.8 One chiropractor, Dr. Edward Ira Gould, also recommends a specific exercise to help some patients: “doing calf raises several times a day”. This will lead to increased blood flow. Dr. Gould believes that RLS is a “vasculature (blood flow problem)”. He recommended doing the calf raises 5 times a day (until the calf muscles start to “burn”) for 6 weeks.9 Other alternative treatments may include “warm/cold baths, electric nerve stimulation, (and) oral magnesium.”10 Some chiropractors feel RLS originates in the “pelvic area of the lumbar and sacral regions of the lower back”. A chiropractor can help resolve the pelvic instability with adjustments, exercises, and stretches.11 Restless legs syndrome is often a lifelong issue, and patients often spend a lot of time and money searching for relief. Chiropractic care could be the natural solution that many did not think about.