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Exercises to Relieve Restless Leg Syndrome

by Patty Weasler, RN December 03, 2019 0 Comments

Woman stretching thigh

Do you feel an irresistible urge to move your legs that causes you to wake up during the night? Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder that creates these feelings and can cause significant sleep disturbances. Typically caused by iron deficiency, low dopamine levels, or genetic factors RLS symptoms can be managed with exercise and stretches. Learn more about how you can implement exercises for restless leg syndrome into your daily routine.

How Exercises Help Restless Leg Syndrome

Exercise for restless legs syndrome relaxes and tires out the muscles so you can get to sleep. Since restless leg syndrome is still in the early stages of medical research, treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms. Remember, an exercise program that works for one person might not work for another. You’ll need to try different techniques to find what works best for you. Exercise and stretching are treatment options that have minimal side effects and can benefit your whole body.

Try yoga for restless leg syndrome

Stretches for RLS

If you suffer from restless leg syndrome stretching loosens up muscles and produces an overall sense of relaxation. Check out these stretches and incorporate them into your exercise or bedtime routine to gain the most benefit.

Calf Stretch

A calf stretch loosens tight calf muscles and relaxes the lower legs. Start off by finding a stable surface to push against such as a chair or wall. Place both hands on the surface and move your right leg back. While keeping your left leg close to the surface, straighten your right knee as much as you can. You should feel the stretch in your calf. Ensure that your toes are facing forward and are not out to the side. Switch legs and repeat the same movement. Do not push through the pain.

Hold this stretch as long as you can, up to one minute. 

Anterior Thigh Stretch

While standing on both feet hold onto a stable surface such as a wall. Grab your right ankle and bring your heel up to your bottom. Keep the top part of your right thigh in line with your left thigh. It should not be out forward, as that does not stretch the front thigh. Aim to have your knee pointing downward or slightly back. Repeat this movement on the left leg.

Hold the front thigh stretch for 30 seconds and repeat three times.

Hip Flexor Stretch

To start this stretch kneel on the ground. Bring the right foot forward with your foot flat on the ground and right knee at a 90 degree angle. Push your hips forward and tighten the muscles in your buttocks. You should feel a stretch in the right hip. Maintain a straight upper body with shoulders parallel to the ground. Switch sides and repeat the movement on the left leg.

Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.

RLS Exercises

Moderate exercise when done on a regular basis can help relax muscles and lessen the symptoms of RLS. Aim for aerobic exercise or resistance training that trains the lower body. You will want to avoid intense workout routines and exercise before bedtime as it can worsen symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Ideally, you should exercise three times per week for 30 minutes to find the greatest benefit for restless legs syndrome. Try these exercises during the day to tire out your muscles so they don’t keep you up all night.

If you find your muscles are tense before exercise, Massage for Restless Leg Syndrome can be an effective solution.

Toe Raises

Lie down and relax flat on your back. Raise your toes straight up to the ceiling and then point down as far as you can. Continue to pump your feet up and down to work your calves and get them ready for bed.

Perform this exercise ten to 15 times for two sets.


Bridges work your glutes, hamstrings, loosen up the lower back. Lie down flat on your back. Bring both knees up and keep your feet flat on the ground. Slowly lift your buttock off the ground, raising it upward. Continue until you have a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Pause at the top and then slowly lower your buttock to the ground.

Perform this exercise ten to twenty times.

Cycling or Swimming

Aerobic exercise calms RLS symptoms when done early in the day and at a moderate pace. Cycling is a low impact sport that will work your legs and get your heart rate up. If you have access to an indoor cycling facility then it can be done year-round. To prevent overstraining yourself, keep your speed at 10 miles per hour or below.

Swimming is also a great aerobic exercise that soothes muscles. The warm water will relax tense muscles and take the weight off of your legs helping to reduce restless leg syndrome pain. You should use a pool float to keep your legs off of the pool floor so you can stretch and move freely without the added impact. As with cycling, do not overdo it or your RLS symptoms can worsen. Swim laps with a friend or join a low impact water aerobics class to keep you motivated.

When and How Long to Stretch

Everyone is different in regards to when and how long they should stretch to reduce restless legs syndrome. Some people will need to stretch early in the morning, while others need to do it in the afternoon to loosen muscles before bed. Universally, everyone should avoid strenuous stretching and exercise before bed. This excites the muscle fibers and worsens RLS. Play around with timing and duration of stretching to find what works best for you. As you begin aim to stretch or exercise for 30 minutes per day working up to 60 minutes. If you find muscles are tense beforehand, massage is an effective way to loosen up muscles before stretching.

What to do for Restless Legs at Night

Managing RLS Symptoms Safely

Exercise is a safe and effective addition to the management of restless leg syndrome. When combined with medication, lifestyle changes, and other therapies, sufferers can find relief and finally get a full night of sleep without uncomfortable sensations in their legs. As with every medical condition and treatment be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin exercising. Restless legs syndrome doesn’t have to take over your night, try these exercises and finally get the rest you need.




Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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