Stretching for Restless Legs
Stretching is believed to be one of the potential ways to reduce restless leg symptoms, both before an attack and during.
Restless leg syndrome involves an intense feeling of unrest in your legs (and other parts of your body) that causes disruptive sensations and an uncontrollable desire to move.
These symptoms are relieved through movement, so those that experience RLS often start moving to reduce the symptoms.
Many people walk around, some people massage their legs, but one of the most commonly recommended types of movement is stretching.
There are two ways to use stretching to reduce RLS. The first is to stretch during an RLS attack. This relieves many of the negative sensations.
Others use stretching exercises for RLS prevention. While it should never be your only home method of reducing restless leg, it does appear that regular stretching may reduce the frequency and severity of RLS symptoms.
There doesn't appear to be a difference between stretches for restless legs, but there also has not been a great deal of research into the area. At the moment, it's best to assume that all stretches for RLS are created equal, and if you want to test out more specific stretches in order to see which ones relieve RLS better, you should consider talking it over with a physician.
You're encouraged to get up and move or walk around as much as possible if you suffer from RLS. Movement, in general, is a form of stretching because it warms up your leg muscles. If you find yourself sitting too often during the day (such as behind a desk) make sure you stand up often and move around.
Other leg stretches are more about tiring the muscle, and can be focused on your entire leg or just the areas that appear to be most affected by your RLS.
More specific leg stretching exercises for RLS include:
One type of stretch involves placing one leg on a high surface, like a couch, with your leg straight. Then, safely, bend forward with your back straight until you feel it stretch the muscle. Hold for a 15 or so seconds and switch legs.
Another stretch is a calf stretch. There are several types of calf stretches. One involves holding out your palms against a wall. You place your left foot behind your right foot by a few feet, almost as though you're trying to push the wall and putting one foot back for leverage. With your back straight and your heals firmly against the floor, you bend your right knee so that it puts pressure on the calf and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
First you stand straight near something you can grab if you lose your balance. Then with your back straight you grab on leg by the foot and pull it up towards your buttocks. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other foot.
It's important to remember that none of these exercise has been specifically tested. In general, the idea is to simply safely stretch the muscle just as you would before exercising or jogging. Stretching essentially makes the muscle loose, so how you stretch is not necessarily as important (as long as it's done safely) as the stretching itself.
Similarly, make sure you're also stretching other muscles that affect you when you're suffering from RLS. Some people experience RLS symptoms in their arms or trunk, and these may also be relieved by stretching.
Yoga can also be valuable, as yoga itself is a form of stretching that also has exercise and stress components that may also help with your RLS.
Regardless, always talk to your doctor before starting any RLS exercise program, especially if you have any physical limitations that could prevent you from stretching safely.
The key is to make sure that you're keeping your muscles tired. Stretching takes away some of the energy out of your muscles, and that energy reduction appears to be one of the ways to both relief restless leg and prevent it from occurring. It's especially valuable as a way to nearly immediately reduce RLS symptoms, although many say that they come back when you lay down again.
Stretching before bed appears to be effective at preventing some RLS episodes, but only if it's combined with other lifestyle changes. It does not appear that stretching can relieve RLS completely, or that there are any specific stretches that are better or worse for RLS, but more research is needed to be sure.
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