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Effective Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

by Patty Weasler, RN December 03, 2019 0 Comments

Woman putting on compression sock

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis-Ekbom disease causes an irresistible urge to move your legs accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. The urge to move happens with rest or at nighttime and is relieved with movement. Restless leg syndrome can cause sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness if left untreated. Treatment can help you get the rest you need and avoid long term complications. Thankfully, there are many treatment options to choose from. Keep reading to learn more about restless leg syndrome treatment and how you can get a good night’s sleep.

Home Remedies

Several home remedies can treat restless leg syndrome. Many of these options require no or minimal equipment, making it easy for anyone to finally get a solid night’s sleep.

Stretches and Exercise

Mild to moderate RLS symptoms can be treated with some basic stretching and exercise. Regular exercise during the day can help reduce symptoms of RLS. Perform easy aerobic exercises like walking, bike riding, or an easy run during the day. Avoid exercising too hard because it can make symptoms of RLS worse. Simple stretches that work the lower body are also a great option. However, if your restless leg syndrome is too severe exercise and stretching can be painful. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pain.

Exercises for Restless Leg Syndrome


Leg massage is a safe, non-pharmacological way to relieve some of the unpleasant symptoms of RLS. Try massaging your calf and upper thigh muscles at night before bed. Massage will relax muscles and increase blood flow to the area. Some people also find massage as a great way to decompress and unwind before bed.

Massage for Restless Leg Syndrome


Stress can make restless leg syndrome worse. Relaxation techniques like yoga can help relax the nerves in your legs and mind. Yoga incorporates mindfulness, stretching, and breathing techniques to increase mind-body awareness. Try yoga poses at bedtime that calm your mind, body, and heart to get a better night’s sleep.

Yoga for Restless Leg Syndrome

Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot and cold therapy can reduce strain and relax the muscles. Heat can be applied before bed with a warm bath, warm compress, or heating pad. Each one of these options will relax muscles and increase blood flow. Cold therapy after exercise numbs nerve endings and eases inflammation through a process called vasoconstriction or the tightening of blood vessels. Use a cold pack to calm the nerves in your leg and help you ease into bed.

TENS Therapy

Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) uses low-voltage electrical current to overstimulate the nerves and numb them. Place the adhesive patches on your legs, feet, or toes before bedtime and turn on the TENS unit. Some people find the electrical impulses temporarily relieve some of their RLS symptoms without the use of medications.


Pressure from compression stockings or a foot wrap can relax the muscles. You’ll want to wear something tight but not so tight that it cuts off circulation to your legs. Compression from these products will give you counter-stimuli and reduce any swelling that you may typically experience at nighttime.

Vein Treatment

New evidence has shown a link between varicose veins and restless leg syndrome. Veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart. These veins have valves in them that prevent the backflow of blood. Varicose veins happen when the valves become faulty and let blood flow backward through the vein. This causes enlarged, bulging vessels.

This vein condition can cause restless leg syndrome and treatment can help you find relief. Using compression stockings is one treatment that can be done inexpensively and at home. Another treatment is a procedure called sclerotherapy. It is done as an outpatient and patients can walk shortly after. Talk to your doctor about which option is best for your situation.

Lifestyle Changes

Many times restless leg syndrome is a temporary condition that can be treated with a few lifestyle changes. Check out below how you can improve your health to lessen your symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

Establish Healthy Sleep Habits

Good sleep habits are essential to a healthy body. Since sleep is can be difficult when you have a sleep disorder, like restless leg syndrome, finding ways to maximize your restful time in bed is essential. Here are tips for you to get a refreshing night’s sleep.

  • Establish a bedtime schedule: go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Minimize distractions: put your cell phone in another room and turn off the TV.
  • Sleep diary: to find patterns in your sleeping habits.
  • Control your bedroom environment: keep your room dark, appropriate temperature, and quiet.

What to do for Restless Legs at Night

Dietary Changes

Your diet can be a trigger for restless leg syndrome, especially if it leads to anemia. Iron deficiency anemia causes your body to not produce enough red blood cells to bring oxygen to your tissues. Eating more foods that contain high levels of iron like fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, seafood, legumes, and organ meat can help manage your symptoms.

Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia causes a lack of production of healthy red blood cells. If your doctor has determined you are B12 deficient increase your intake of fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can worsen the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Avoid coffee, soda, and other caffeine containing foods and drinks to determine if they are triggering your symptoms. Drinking alcohol may seem like a good way to relax before bed but causes a disturbed sleep pattern which may induce more restless leg symptoms.


Treating restless leg syndrome with medication is recommended for people who have frequent symptoms of at least three nights a week or as suggested by your doctor. Typically restless leg syndrome can be treated with non-pharmacologic techniques but in persistent cases, medicine may be necessary. Multiple medication options ranging from simple supplements to physician controlled opioids are available. Read about each type below.

  • Iron

    Iron deficiency is a common cause of restless leg syndrome that is easily reversible with iron supplements. Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine if your iron levels are low. If they are low, an over-the-counter iron supplement called ferrous sulfate may be suggested.

  • Anti-Seizure Medications

    Anti-seizure medications are a class of drugs that also treat restless leg symptoms by interrupting pain signals in the nerves of the legs. This medication is most effective for people who suffer from restless leg syndrome caused by neuropathy. A few of the common anticonvulsants used are gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant), gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin (Lyrica). Gabapentin enacarbil is currently the only FDA approved anti-seizure medication for restless leg syndrome, with the rest being used off label.

  • Dopamine Agonists

    Dopaminergic drugs replace dopamine in the brain, known to be deficient in those with restless leg syndrome. Also used to treat Parkinson’s disease, dopamine agonists when taken at nighttime can reduce the symptoms of RLS. Commonly prescribed dopaminergic agents are levodopa, carbidopa, ropinirole, pramipexole, and rotigotine. There are some short-term side effects to look out for with these drugs like dizziness and nausea.

  • Benzodiazepine

    As one of the last lines of defense against restless leg syndrome, benzodiazepines can help you get a restful night’s sleep. These medications can cause sleepiness and affect concentration, therefore should be taken just before bedtime. The most common prescribed benzodiazepines are clonazepam and lorazepam. You and your doctor should review your health history before taking a benzodiazepine as it can affect other conditions you may have.

  • Opioids

    A low dose opioid like oxycodone and codeine can help with restless leg syndrome. These drugs are used for people who have not responded to other treatments. Opioids aren’t without risk, side effects such as constipation, nausea, and addiction need to be considered before starting treatment.

Treating RLS Symptoms Safely

Restless leg syndrome can be safely and effectively managed with one or multiple treatments. Try some of the suggestions above to determine if you can effectively manage it without medication. If you are unable to find relief your doctor may prescribe you a medication to let you get rest without the urge to move. Talk to your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for your circumstances.




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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