Do 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 cardiovascular, 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.
In 2015, Ulrike H Mitchell, from the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young University, reviewed the various medical device approaches.
He 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 its 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
In 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
Near infrared devices
Near infrared 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 infrared 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 infrared 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)
TENS machines apply an 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 try one in a clinic.
In 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 the 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.
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 infrared 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.
Have you used any of these systems, and did you find them effective? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments box below.