New Restless Legs Syndrome Treatment Options

image representing restless legs syndromeDo you suffer from restless legs syndrome, and find that medication or home remedies don’t help reduce the irritating symptoms?

If this is the case, there are some other interesting treatment options you might like to try.

If you’d like to know more about the main treatment options and home remedies, you can read the main article about RLS.

In this article though, I’ll look at various electronic devices which some researchers and patients have suggested might help.

Currently, these medical devices aren’t really seen as mainstream treatments. In fact, unless your doctor is a sleep specialist, they may not even be aware of them.

That said, based on comments on RLS forums it would appear that some sufferers are convinced that they can be very effective.

Many of the systems are either complicated, expensive or both. So you’ll probably want to seek expert advice before trying them or trial them before buying.

Also note that the devices are really for those with primary rather than secondary restless legs syndrome.

And if you have other medical conditions, especially cardio vascular, blood pressure or circulation related, you might want to talk to your doctor before trying these alternative treatment options.

 

Alternative theories about the causes of RLS

There isn’t universal agreement among the medical profession about the causes of primary RLS. In our main article we discussed a number of theories about the possible causes.

There are two other theories though, which despite having less research to back them up, do support the use of non-drug treatments:

  • That it’s caused by a low blood flow rate, which reduces the oxygen levels in the muscles. The involuntary leg movement is the body’s way of trying to improve blood flow. So if you can increase your blood flow in your legs, it might reduce the RLS involuntary movement.
  • It’s a type of somatic hallucination. The brain receives, or thinks it receives, sensations from your legs which don’t actually exist, such as pain or stimulation. This can result in your brain sending signals to your legs causing movement or strange feelings. If you can break the chain reaction then again perhaps it will reduce the RLS symptoms.

There currently isn’t much medical research into these theories. But they do nonetheless open up some new approaches to treatment .

 

Treatment Options

In 2015 Ulrike H Mitchell, from the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young University, reviewed the various medical device approaches and provided a very useful summary of those which seem effective. The systems he reviewed are covered further below.

 

1) Devices which increase blood flow

 

Whole body vibration

For this method, vibration can be applied to the whole body, similar to the technique used in some fitness gyms. This does appear to increase blood flow, but there’s no dedicated research into it’s effectiveness as an RLS treatment.

There are also safety concerns about the effects of large vibrations on different parts of the body.

Therefore it’s currently not a widely promoted treatment, and with the safety concerns not something you’d probably want to try without seeking expert advice first.

 

Compression therapy using pneumatic massage collars

compression therapy treatment in actionIn this case a sleeve or collar is fitted to your leg and compressed and decompressed on a cyclic basis.

It might feel like a blood pressure monitor, but continuously for perhaps an hour every day.

There appear to be mixed results from medical trials, with some showing significant reductions in RLS symptoms and others being less positive.

There can also be a tolerance issue due to pain, itching or sweating. This limits the time people will use these devices.

Equally, some people welcome the massage feeling and find it provides relief from RLS.

The devices can be rented or purchased from specialist providers. One which specifically mentions restless leg syndrome is made by powerplay (this and subsequent links are not affiliate links).

 

Near infra red devices

a near infra red light device on a legNear infra red is light at a higher frequency than the visual spectrum.

As such it can penetrate deeper into the body tissue. The typical system for treating RLS consists of a generator and a number of pads which are attached to your legs.

Researchers have shown that this can result in increased blood flow.

Trials have also shown that near infra red can reduce the symptoms of RLS and in many cases markedly improve your overall sleep.

The author of the report mentioned above has a patent pending on a near infra red system, so I suspect we will hear more about this technique in the near future.

Currently, systems can be bought from specialist providers or over the Internet. The systems used in a comparison trial were a dual medium pad unit from healthlight and a system from Anodyne. Anodyne also provide details of clinics where you can get treatment.

 

2) Devices which aim to counteract false signals

 

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

image of a tens machine being usedTENS machines apply electric current through electrodes on your skin. They’re generally used for pain control, which some people find them very effective for.

You can vary the frequency and intensity and in general TENS are considered safe to use.

I’ve seen posts on forums from people saying that they found them to be very effective in treating RLS. Others report that they can make the symptoms worse.

There doesn’t appear to be any dedicated medical research to assess the effectiveness of this technique for treating RLS though.

TENS machines can be bought relatively cheaply on the Internet. Equally, with the lack of supporting research on their effectiveness, I’d be slightly wary of investing in an expensive machine initially.

Perhaps you could try a cheaper model first or see if you can trial one in a clinic.

 

Vibration pad

image of the relaxis vibration pad being used by a womanIn this approach a vibration pad is placed under your legs when lying down.

This provides a gentle vibration to your legs, and you can leave it on while you fall asleep.

Relaxis manufacture a system which is designed specifically for the treatment of RLS.

And it’s currently the only medical device approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of primary RLS.

Medical trials have again provided mixed results. Some reported an improvement in RLS symptoms as well as quality of sleep.

Others suggest the actual symptoms are not improved, but sleep quality is still improved significantly.

Interestingly, Ulrike H Mitchell in his review stated that the Relaxis pad was just as effective in improving sleep quality as RLS specific drug regimes.

So perhaps this system is definitely something worth considering. It’s only available by prescription and quite expensive (around $1000 depending on model), but you can get a free 30 day trial.

You can find a lot more details about how it works, testimonials and purchase plans on the Relaxis web site.

 

Conclusion

Although research is a bit sparse, there do appear to be alternatives to medication or home remedies for restless leg syndrome.

And certainly if you’re concerned about the standard medication prescribed for RLS, then you may well be interested in investigating these options.

The two options which seem to be gathering the most interest are the near infra red system and the vibration pad.

Medical practitioners would almost certainly advise that you talk to your doctor first if you’re interested in trying one of these devices.

Given the cost of the more complex devices, it might be a good idea to see if you can trial or rent them before committing to a purchase.

 

Comments

I would be really interested to know if any readers have used these systems and if so did you find them effective? Also if you used one did you manage to trial it before buying it?

Please feel free to write your thoughts and describe your experiences in the comments box below.

 

31 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have restless legs so bad. I remember it even as a small child crying at night begging my mom to rub my legs. I am 28yrs old now. I had it the worst when i was pregnant. Nothing seems to help except someone or myself pounding on my legs for a good solid hour. It is usually at night but I have had episodes of it while driving and even at my desk at work. Tens units have helped a tiny bit but not much. I have never tried medication because I went to a doctor once for it and she acted like I just need more water. I am healthy and have no medical issues. I have seen CHI machines online that vibrate your legs for only $100 might be trying this very soon.

    • Hi Elise
      Thanks for your comment. I can imagine it must be frustrating knowing that you have to do that to yourself to sleep well. Have you thought about learning some massage techniques, such as shiatsu? Perhaps that could help. If you do try one of those machines, it would be great to hear from you in the future with any feedback on how it worked.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I am a 28 year old, female sufferer of on and off RLS. It comes on and increases due to stress, tiredness and I suspect some medications also. I wasn’t aware of how each of these machines would benefit my leg and in particular how the TENS machine would work or feel. I have a friend who had one of those silly ab belts however and gave me a shot of it, the ones which apply an electrical current to tense the muscles. Whilst I don’t imagine they do much for abs, I was hit immediately by how penetrating the sensation can be at high levels. Today I received my “abs” belt in the mail, and have since had it wrapped around my affected leg on a medium – high setting. It’s the most relief I’ve ever experienced. Usually I try to jam things around or under my leg in a position which causes a lot of pain but makes the feeling slightly more manageable. Doing this never seems to quite hit the right spot however with this belt, it’s like having my inner muscles constantly vibrated by a current, which I can adjust the level of. I’m not sure whether it will help in the long run but for temporary relief, which masks the sensation in the present, it’s pretty fantastic. I imagine it works similarly to the TENS machine as the belt also has four pads. With the belt though, I imagine I can sort the strapping out so that I can walk around with it permanently attached to my leg in the right place which would be excellent for days where it starts up earlier in the day and I’m out and about.

    • Hi Kayleigh
      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that the device seems to be helping initially. It will be good to hear from you after a few weeks to see how you got on with it. I’m not sure that having it on permanently would be a good thing though! I’d check with the manufacturer and your doctor before turning into a leg strap device.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have had RLS all my life (70 plus yrs) and have tried all the meds and other devices. Recently had a TENS unit given to me to try. I cannot find anyone who knows where to put the leads for RLS. One person above referred to a sandal device so I will look for that. I wonder if people put both leads one on top of the other on the lower leg or if they put them on their back? I have tried the thigh and also lower back with no relief. I personally use a recumbent bicycle for about 10 minute intervals when my legs start jerking. I am currently using oxycontin one tab at nite and most nights do pretty well getting about 7 hrs of slelep. I previously was using oxycodone but it took 1 1/2 hrs to work and then worked 2 hrs and I would have to wait until 4 hrs were up to take my second tab of the nite. So I didn’t get lots of sleep but some. That is why my neurologist/sleep specialist changed to the oxycontin. Hope someone can give me some ideas how to use the TENS unit.

    • Hi Lynn
      Thanks for your comment, and that’s an interesting question! I just did some digging around to get some clear advice for you. I found one medical journal which looked at different treatment options that specifically says “TENS is usually administered to the site of pain and treatment times vary from 30 minutes to several hours.”
      You can find that journal article here.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • The TENS unit actually made my symptoms worse. I purchased a top of the line model as I was hoping for some relief of RLS symptoms. I tried varying the intensity & types of ‘massage’, but no help at all. Try a cheap model if you consider this, rather than spending a lot of money for nothing.

  • After reading the comments from all the other RLS sufferers I would like to add my own story. I have been suffering from RLS for many years and it is getting worse with age (I am 84) So, in desperation I finally decided to take MIRAPEX (Pramipexole) about 1 year ago. It helped at first, now it is not that effective any more, but I still have to take it at 0.125mg/day
    Then I consulted Dr. Daniel Kalish, 3645 Grand Ave. Oakland, CA tel 800 616 7708.
    He suggested MUCUNA Powder along with some amino acids.
    This is called 40% D5 Mucuna Powder, made by CHK Nutrition, Duluth, MN
    The amino acid seems to make no difference, but the Mucuna powder calmes down the RLS within a few minutes. So I have to get up at night and take the powder, but then I can get back to sleep, so it has been a blessing. One draw-back: It makes me nauseated, so after taking the Mucuna , 1/4 teaspoon with water, I chew on a piece of ginger to combat the nausea. It works for me. Some nights I have to repeat the Mucuna, but most nights I have to take it only once. I think you can buy the Mucuna online or you can order it from Dr. Kalish. I understand that it increases Dopamine.

    • Hi Rena – if the Mucuna is causing nausea, you might want to consider L Tyrosine. It also increases Dopamine and is pretty safe. You can also increase Dopamine with Choline supplements like Citicoline, Alpha GPC, or Phosphatidylcholine.

  • I have had RLS for about 20 years. I have found that Ropinorole works well but I split the dosage so I take two .25 mg pills with a magnesium pill before dinner and then one moe with a magnesium pill about an hour before bed. I also find on a problem night that lorazepam works. Clonazepam isn’t that great for me. I have problems with calf muscles spasms at night and am looking at Dr. Ho’s circulation TENS machine. Maybe it will help the RLS. My acupuncturist has recommended it.

    • Hi c
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. Hopefully the TENS machine will help. It would be great to hear back from you at a late date if you have a minute or two to pop back and provide an update!
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have suffered from primary RLS for 25+ years. I am an active 63 year old male. I feel like I have tried everything – but I know that’s not true. Initially, I thought it was just a ‘sleep problem’ and not a ‘legs’ problem. I tried St Johns Wort, Valerian Root, warm milk, iron supplements, magnesium supplements… It wasn’t long before I was diagnosed w/ depression and spent 4 years on a series of anti-depression meds. Some of those helped w/ sleep. Some exacerbated the RLS (side note: my father had severe restless legs before it had a ‘syndrome’ associated with it).

    In the last 5 years, my psychiatrist prescribed clonazepam, which helped for a while. Then he added Pramipexole – to which I had terrible numbness reactions. I then switched to Ropinirole. Currently, the combination of clonazepam and Ropinirole work much of the time. In addition, I also take 200mg of 5 HTP to get drowsy.

    When all else fails, I either take a 30 minute hot bath (as hot as I can stand it) or use a handheld shower head to spray hot water all over my legs and back. I take care to get the warm heat onto my femoral artery. After sufficient time w/ the hot water, I can often fall into blissful sleep. I also have a ‘sleep # bed’ w/ vibrations built into it if I choose. Sometimes I use the ‘lower body’ vibration mode. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it makes the restlessness worse.

    It has been tormenting for 25 years. I now take 11 pills each night. The newest is 5 HTP. I also use a product called Calm Legs which is mostly magnesium. I am still searching for something that works every time.

    • Hi Buz
      Thanks for your comment. It was interesting to read about all the different things you’ve tried. It’s a shame the vibrating bed doesn’t always help – I imagine it wasn’t cheap to buy, so you’d hope it would work!
      Perhaps you might like to try one or two of the suggestions here and see if they help.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have had RLS for many, many years. I am Type 1 Diabetic and notice it is worse if my blood sugars are over 300. BUT, for all these years I’ve either rocked myself to sleep (lying on my side and literally rocking my hips) or I lie on my stomach with my feet hanging off and “bounce” my feet. I would assume this is the equivalent to vibrations, I just didn’t know it. My husband would be very grateful if I stopped bouncing or rocking the bed at night :-). I think I’ll try the vibration and save his sanity. Remembering the feeling of the TENS from physical therapy, it is too much like what RLS feels like, so I probably won’t be trying that avenue.

    • Hi Barbara
      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully the vibrating technique will work for you. If you have a moment in the future, having tried it, I’d love to hear back from you.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I loved the idea of the Relaxis vibrating pad but didn’t want to shell out a $1000. I read someone’s review of it that said it worked for her but she had to concentrate on the vibration. If she does that it distracts her away from the RLS and she falls asleep. I looked on-line and found a vibrating pad that, like the Relaxis, gradually shuts off after 30 minutes. It is intended to go under an infant’s mattress. It was only $20. I decided to give it a try. It’s quite a bit smaller than the Relaxis but it worked for me fabulously. I put it under the calf of the leg with the symptoms and concentrated on the vibrations…then fell asleep! Yeah! If you need it for both legs, buy two or put it in between. The pad is made by Munchkin and available on Amazon.

    • Hi Judith
      Thanks very much for your comment and for sharing this idea. It’s great that you found something that works for you, and at a much lower cost. I’m sure other readers will be grateful for the tip! It would be good to hear back from you in a week or two to know if it continued working well for you – if you have a moment and don’t mind sharing your experience again.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have had RLS off and on for about 15 years. I’m 57 – sooo since my early 40s. Sometimes increasing magnesium, Vit D, iron, etc. are all I need but sometimes NOT. Sometimes I mostly feel it in my brain – a weird tingly feeling that comes over me in waves.

    I’ve recently increased my exercise routine, and it is wreaking havoc with my RLS. So, I’ve been on a hunt for anything that might help and have found similar articles and been trying some new things. Right now I have my LED light device on my leg. It does seem to help. I have the RED and near INFRARED lights turned on. I also have a TENS device but I’ve only used it with the sandal attachment. It may have helped. After reading this article, I plan to re-try that route. But the weird thing I’ve done is using one of my anti-aging devices – my D’arsonval High frequency device. Knowing that RLS has a neurological basis, I’ve tried scalp massage, and that helped a little. I decided to go a step further one night when the RLS was unrelenting. I was desperate so grabbed my D’arsonval device, which emits an electronic zappy kind of energy, and used it all over my scalp. It worked like a charm. After reading this article, I see why it worked. Hopefully, I’m not zapping any brain cells in a negative way ;-) BTW…the LED is working well on my leg right now. Time to go to bed…

    • Hi Trish
      Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your experiences. I’m sure other readers will find it very helpful to read. It’s also very interesting that you’ve had some success with your other 2 ideas. If you’re concerned about doing them on an on-going basis, talk it over with your doctor. But if you do continue, it would be fantastic to hear back from you in the future to see if it continued helping.
      Regards
      Ethan

      • Hi Ethan – thought I would follow up. Unfortunately, using either a TENS device or an LED light therapy device did not really work out in helping with my RLS.

        So, I’m focusing on:
        1- reducing chronic inflammation with increased antioxidants
        2 – increasing dopamine and other neurotransmitters through a combination of Citicoline, Alpha GPC (another form of choline supplementation), and/or
        L Tyrosine
        3 – continuing to use my High Frequency D’arsonval device on bad nights. These can be bought on Amazon for as little as $29. For me, it completely stops an RLS attack. I turn it up to the highest level and, using the zapper electrode, rub it all over my head and legs, focusing on the middle of the top of my head. Plus you have a nice skin device that can be used for other things (especially anti-aging) as well. I know this sounds goofy but it works for me… maybe it can help someone else. RLS is just so awful when it hits.

        • Hi Trish
          Great to hear from you again – thanks so much for following up on your last comment!
          It’s a shame you didn’t have any success with those ideas. But it’s interesting that you don’t seem to have given up and are exploring other options. I’m sure other readers will be very interested in your latest ideas, and if something works, I don’t think it matters whether it’s goofy or not.
          Keep in touch!
          Regards
          Ethan

  • I have dealt with RLS for decades with doses of potassium, heat packs, vitamin D, and /or muscle relaxers. It became worse after a recent knee replacement with not much relief, so I opted to get a prescription from my doc and order a Relaxis pad.
    It has made a great difference in the quality of my life by allowing me to get some sleep. I don’t know the science behind the vibrations, and don’t care, because it works for me.

  • I have suffered with restless leg for 5 months now. I have not had more than 3-4 hours sleep in that time per night. Which is also broken sleep. I had blood tests done which showed a vitamin d deficiency. Although, i have taken supplements for this, been on sunbeds and just come back from abroad it has made no difference. I cannot take any more of this. Have tried different medications but side effects stop me from taking them and now my doctor says there is nothing more they can do. So, basically put up with it.

    • Hi Sharon
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’ve been suffering so much because of RLS. Perhaps you could try the treatment ideas in this article, if you’re able to access them? It might be worth trying if your doctor has run out of ideas.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • Don’t give up. Look on Google and find a neurologist that specializes in RLS and insomnia. There are things that work to relieve sometimes not completely but work. I am thinking of going to get a Tens Machine. I take clonazopam and pain patches, can’t think of the name at present. Go see a specialist and they will try until successful.

    • Hi Sharon, It has been almost a year since you wrote this so I hope you have found some relief. In case not: I have had RLS for 18 years and tried many things. I wonder if you have tried Gabapentin (need RX). It doesn’t have most of the side effects of the dopamine types. I took Gabapentin which helped but then developed nausea from it. At that point I was up to 500mg/night. I went off for several months then RLS got so bad again that I decided to try taking 100 mg one night and none the next. That worked, I got relief half of the time which made life possible & I didn’t get nauseous. I have now slowly worked up to 100mg/night without nausea. I still get jerks but not as bad and I have developed the ability to get up and walk for a count of 100 – 600 steps as needed then go back to bed and sleep for 2-4 hours. Not ideal but some sleep is better than none. Don’t give up different things work for different people.

  • I haven’t tried any of these, but I suffered from RLS almost nightly. I’m 56 and I don’t exercise a lot (mostly yoga) and I sit in front of a computer all day, every day.

    I visited my doctor last month and he started out by doing some bloodwork. Two days later, he reported that I was deficient in vitamins D and B12, and also iron-deficient. After four days of taking supplemental vitamins and iron, the RLS disappeared and it hasn’t been back.

    • Hi Melina
      Thanks for your comment. It’s great that your doctor was able to identify that deficiency and that you’ve managed to stoo the RLS with supplements. Let’s hope it continues that way. You can also find out about the relationship between RLS and different vitamins and minerals in the main article.
      Regards
      Ethan

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