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Massage Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

by Patty Weasler, RN December 03, 2019 0 Comments

Woman Massaging Calf

Restless leg syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is a sleep disorder that creates uncomfortable sensations in the legs while you rest. It is thought to be caused by an iron deficiency or low dopamine levels within the brain. Many treatments aim to reduce symptoms through lifestyle changes, iron supplements, medication, moderate exercise, and massage therapy. Learn more in this article about how you can integrate massage for restless leg syndrome into your life and get the sleep you need.

How Massage Therapy Helps RLS

The exact reason why massage helps RLS symptoms isn’t entirely understood by researchers. However, many people have found significant relief from their symptoms with regular leg massage before bed. When combined with other RLS treatments, massage therapy can be a very safe and effective way to help manage your symptoms of RLS.

  • Improves Circulation

    One of the suspected reasons massage may be so effective is that it improves both blood and lymphatic circulation. Massage helps to move out congested blood and improve the flow of new blood to the area. This brings in more oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. Massage also helps move lymph fluid through the lymphatic system, which cleans the lymph and helps the body to fight infection.

  • Promotes Relaxation

    If you suffer from restless legs syndrome going to bed can be daunting. You know that you won’t sleep well and you may have anxiety about losing more sleep. That’s when massage can really help. Massage is known to reduce stress, minimize tension, and increase dopamine release. All these together can help you calm your mind and body before bed.

Leg Massage Techniques for Restless Leg Syndrome

There are many types of massage therapy techniques offered for restless legs syndrome. What works for one person might not work for another. You should experiment with different types and if needed work with an experienced massage therapist to find the right combination for you. Here we cover four common massage techniques that can benefit the symptoms of RLS.

Myofascial Release

With myofascial release a massage therapist will focus on easing tension by massaging the fascia, the tissue that surrounds the muscles. Normal fascia feels soft and elastic, when it becomes tight and knotty the massage therapist will work on these areas with massage and stretching. The goal is to release the fascia to improve pain and muscle tension.

To perform self myofascial release, take a foam roller or muscle roller stick and move your legs slowly up and down the roller until you find a tender spot. Apply sustained pressure on that spot until the tenderness begins to fade, usually 30 to 90 seconds.

Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy works to find trigger points within the body to release them. These trigger points may or may not be at the site of pain. The massage therapist will massage these trigger points until they are released. Unlike your typical Swedish massage, trigger point therapy doesn’t cover the entire body and only focuses on individual spots.

To release your own trigger points start by finding muscle knots. Using your fingers or a massage cane, press firmly into the knot. Repeat this for three to five minutes, multiple times per day.

Deep Tissue Massage

With deep tissue massage, the massage therapist uses strong pressure to knead deep into muscles to break up adhesions and scar tissue. The amount of pressure can be adjusted to your comfort level. Symptoms of restless legs syndrome lessen with deep tissue leg massage done in the evening.

If you’re able to apply enough pressure on your body you can perform a self deep tissue massage. Start by working on your lower legs with gentle, yet deep pressure to massage the muscles. Continue to work upwards to your knee paying special attention to any muscle knots you find. A massage roller ball can help achieve smooth, even strokes.

Sports Massage

Sports massage has historically been used by athletes to reduce recovery time or enhance performance before an event. You don’t have to be an athlete to reap the benefits of a sports massage. This massage treatment works the leg muscles and muscle-tendon junctions to help you find relief from restless legs syndrome.

You can perform a self sports massage with your hands, elbows, or massage tool. Like a traditional Swedish massage, when you perform a sports massage use long stroke across the muscle to increase circulation and improve muscle recovery. Make sure your massage strokes move towards your heart, taking your time to release tension and stress in the muscle.

Self-Massage Tips

Some people think that massage done in an office is out of their reach, either because of time constraints or money. Performing self-massage takes these two factors out of the equation to make this treatment option available to just about anyone. Here is how to get started with self-massage and tips to make it more effective for restless legs syndrome.

Full Leg Massage

Start with a lower leg massage. While in a seated position, massage your calves and shins with moderate pressure. Work up to your hamstrings and quadriceps. Always massage towards your heart to help with blood flow return.

Find Trigger Points

To find trigger points, press your elbow in your thigh moving slowly to find any tender spots. These spots will be the trigger points. When you come across one, press your elbow firmly down and massage your elbow into the spot to release it. After about 30 seconds release pressure. You may find that you need to repeat this movement multiple times to fully release the trigger point.

Roll It Out

Take a lacrosse ball and massage from your knee up your hamstrings to your bottom. Use your own body weight to press deep into your muscles. This deep massage will find both trigger points and release adhesions and scar tissue. Once you have finished rolling out your muscles use the same massage as you started with to move the blood and fluid through your tissues.

How Often Should You Massage?

Massaging your legs in the evening before bed is a proven sleep habit that can manage RLS symptoms. Ideally, you should massage your legs for 30 to 60 minutes at least twice a week. One study showed that a 45 minute massage, twice a week showed a reduction in symptoms of restless legs syndrome. As one of the home remedies that has little to no side effects, massage for restless leg syndrome is a great option for just about anyone.

Taking the Right Precautions With RLS Massage

Massage for restless leg syndrome is a safe and effective way to manage the symptoms of this nervous system disorder. No matter if you have mild to severe RLS your legs will benefit from this relaxation technique that can be done at home or with a professional. As with any health condition, talk to your doctor before you start a massage treatment. There are some conditions like blood clots that are contraindications to massage.




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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