Restless leg syndrome is a fairly debilitating medical condition which causes your legs to tingle and crawl at night, and impacts your sleep and quality of life. At age 23, I was diagnosed with restless leg syndrome, and three years later, the condition is still impacting my quality of life. Here is what I have experienced with restless leg syndrome as well as tips for others that might be suffering as well.
When I was 22, I first began noticing strange sensations in my legs almost immediately after crawling into bed for the night. The sensations were light at first, but after a few months, they began intensifying to the point that I was barely sleeping three hours a night. It was hard to explain the sensations at first, but as it progressed, it just felt like my entire leg was on fire and burning. I could literally punch myself in the thigh and below the knee and it felt good, it was like applying pressure was the only way to get the sensations to stop. After months of dealing with these pains, I decided to go to the doctor, where a quick symptom check and medical assessment led him to conclude I did suffer from restless leg syndrome. There is no real way to diagnose restless leg syndrome, basically just ruling out other medical conditions, asking if I took any medications that might cause it, and asking about a family history. I was not on medication of any kind and no family history of it that I know of.
He basically told me there was no real treatment or cure, but some medications can help lessen the burning pains I was feeling in my legs. So he listed a few choices I had which included taking a sleeping pill like Ambien to help me sleep at night or a muscle relaxant. Well I have heard many horror stories about Ambien in my lifetime, so that was a drug I was not willing to take, but I settled on a muscle relaxant because I figured that would be my best bet, and it is also less addictive. So I began taking 1 milligram of Klonopin at night an hour before bedtime, it was supposed to calm down the nerves and lessen the sensations. Well, it worked for a few months, I woke up refreshed and my legs barely tingled at all through the night. As with a lot of medications though, it started not working as well and the sensations were increasing again, and within eight months it stopped working all together. I then decided to try a prescription painkiller, because opiates are also known to help relieve the feelings in the legs, but I know getting onto Vicodin and other pills is a very slippery slope. I really did love the Vicodin, it worked better than the Klonopin, and basically stopped the leg pain completely. However, I knew that I did not want to be someone that was stuck on an opiate for the rest of my life, and I did not want to deal with becoming addicted, so I decided to stop that treatment after one year.
By the time I was 24, I was back to square one again, but this time the pain seemed worse than before. I knew that I couldn’t keep dealing with these burning feelings all the time. When I went to bed, I had to stretch out my legs from one side of the bed to the other, just to get the pain to stop. I would start twitching my toes and foot and moving it back in forth in bed, because it seemed to relieve the pressure that I felt. My poor boyfriend would wake up to me having my foot or toes up his back, which annoyed him greatly and impacted his ability to sleep. I then just began doing simple things to relieve the pain, such as doing stretches before I went to bed, which was the best thing I could do in this situation.
If you suffer from restless leg syndrome, stretching before you go to bed is essential, and it has been the one thing that I have noticed helps me the most. I do the front thigh stretch and calf stretch, at least three times a day, and it has helped immensely. The front thigh stretch is simply standing in front of a wall and grabbing one leg and bending it toward your backside. I usually try to get the back of my foot to touch my buttocks, and hold that position for a minute, then repeat with the other leg. With the calf stretch, you just stand in front of a wall and try to take one leg as far back as you can, and hold that for about a minute. You want to repeat the process with your other foot, and try to expand how far your foot is going backward a little bit each time.
I have also found that during the summer, mowing was a huge benefit for my legs at night. I think it was just the fact I was outside walking around for three hours, getting exercise, and making my legs be productive. I am not saying everyone needs to go outside and push mow to help with restless leg syndrome, but it really did help my legs at night because they were tired and felt well stretched. Granted, I only mow once a week so I still had to exercise during the week, and I would do other yard work as well to help keep my legs active.
One odd thing that I learned which might help others suffering is that weight really helps stop the pain. I don’t know why and I think it’s weird but if I take a book bag and fill it with books, then put it on my legs at night, they don’t hurt nearly as bad. Pressure for some reason seems to alleviate the tingling and burning, but it is difficult to keep pressure on your legs all night, especially if you move a lot like I do. I use the book bag trick quite regularly, especially in the winter when I am not as active, and it really does seem to work. I can put my legs under the leg of my boyfriend and get that same relief, but I know he does not enjoy my leg constantly under his so I try to not do that very often. Sometimes if the bottom half of my leg is burning, I will just put my cat on top of my legs and let him sleep there, because his weight also relieves the pain. Sometimes I admit, I do still punch myself in the thigh when the pain shoots up my leg as I am sitting in a chair, but I don’t recommend that others do that.
The best advice I can give someone else suffering from restless leg syndrome is to not give up, and try whatever you have to in order to find relief. Not getting a good sleep, waking up without energy, and just in pain all day is no way to go through life. You may decide medications are the best option, but you need to weigh the risks and side effects of all medications beforehand. I would also say that if you do take medications, you should still exercise and do stretches as well, because a combination therapy is the best way to combat the pain and tingling. Some people may find that just walking for a while before bed can help relieve the symptoms, while others might need to keep pressure on the legs during the night. There is no one way to treat restless leg syndrome, so you just have to keep going and use a trial and error process, which can honestly take years to figure out. For me, I am not using medications due to the side effects and possibility for addiction, but I make sure to do leg stretches four times a day. I have found that spending 20 minutes in bed moving my foot and legs does also help, but the pain still persists to this day, and that is just something I have to live with for the rest of my life.