Restless legs syndrome (also Involuntary movements)

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

What is it?

Restless legs, an almost irresistible urge to move the legs or other body parts, affects a great many people -- perhaps up to 1 in 10 people have it to some degree and it is clear that many people have their rest and sleep disturbed by a kind of physical agitation that is surely better served by a natural approach than the rather dangerous drugs on offer from pharmaceutical medicine for this issue (e.g. the dopamine drugs used for Parkinson's disease, powerful opioid drugs, sedative Valium type drugs etc. all with numerous and significant side effects)

How is it diagnosed?

There is no lab test to diagnose restless legs -- you have it if you say yes to the following 4 questions:

1) do you get odd feelings* which give you an almost irresistible urge to move your legs and/or arms?
(*odd feelings include such sensations as prickling, numbness, pain, burning, itching or tingling)

2) do you get these feelings much more at night than in the morning?

3) do you get these feelings more when you start lying still, relaxing or going to sleep?

4) can you relieve these feelings by moving your legs or other areas that are affected?

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Causes & Treatments

In the logical world of maths and machines there is one cause and one solution for every problem. In the complex soup of human life things are rarely that simple. Do consider the possibility that you may have more than one reason to have this problem and in so doing you will be much more likely to take the right steps needed to truly make a difference and get well.

Iron Deficiency

About 20% of people with restless legs will greatly improve by simply getting their blood ferritin (iron stores) up to a good level (at least 50 µg/L but even better over 80 µg/L). Just to complicate matters it has also been found that up to three quarters of people with the restless legs syndrome have higher than usual iron stores! Why that might be is a mystery but iron is one of those things that can hurt you if you have too much of it.

You therefore have to start with a test for iron rather than a treatment with iron. If it's low then there is a good likelihood that you will improve by simply boosting your iron levels. If pharmaceutical iron binds up your bowel as it does with many people then get an organic iron supplement but make sure it is a high strength one because iron levels can be slow to rise and there is no point in doing half measures and giving up before it has a proper chance to work. Your symptoms should start to noticeably improve within at least two weeks if you are doing enough to be effectively treating the deficiency and it really is a leading cause of the problem.

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Other Deficiencies

I along with other clinicians feel that the mineral magnesium and the vitamins B12 and Folate can also be relevant to the restless legs syndrome. B12 and Folate should be tested along with the iron studies so you know if you need them or not -- if you do then take a supplement until your symptoms improve.

If you research the restless legs syndrome online you will found some strong endorsements for using Magnesium to treat it. I agree that it may help some people (so long as a good 200mg a day of elemental magnesium is being taken in some form) but I also see that if someone does not obviously respond to magnesium with significantly reduced symptoms within a week then it is unlikely to happen later down the track -- i.e. use generously but not for long unless it is clearly working

My personal observation of the blood of people with this problem (viewed at high magnification through a dark-field microscope) is that they tend towards having brittle and easily damaged cells and such signs of in the blood generally suggest there is a case to not just focus on boosting up a few specific nutrients but to have something of an overhaul of the general diet.

If you were to give yourself an honest score out of 10 for your diet and you would say that you are a 7 or below then I recommend you read the article here on excellent nutrition to see what I mean by 'overhaul'.

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Circulatory Weakness

There is also good evidence to link the restless legs syndrome with problems involving blood-flow back through the veins of the legs. You may be able to see that this is a possible cause through such other signs as having quite bad varicose veins or even a marked tendency towards cold feet!

Horsechestnut

If 'venous insufficiency' is the main reason for the restless legs then the herb Horsechestnut is highly likely to be able to help but it needs to be taken patiently for a certain result. You can read more about this fascinating herb here.

Hawthorn

If you did need to go down this path I would also recommend to take a combination of the extract or high-grade capsule of both Hawthorn leaf and berry extract as well. The treatment will work faster and be more holistic as the centre of operations -- the heart, will be being cared for at the same time. Read more about how to use Hawthorn here.


Aesculus hippocastanum (Horsechestnut)

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Excess physical tension

Even if you clearly have something as cut and dry as a nutrient deficiency or a circulation problem I recommend you keep a very open mind to the possibility that you are also just holding too much tension in your body and that at least a part of the reason you have this condition is that your system is showing you how much you need to relax.

Relaxation is a big subject and in all honesty it is far harder to do than it sounds. This is because if you 'try' to relax you just end up becoming tenser!

If you know within yourself that you are too tense then I strongly suggest you let nature take the first step to help you in this regard. You are best to work with an experienced herbalist if your problem is in any way severe but if that is not possible or practical there are still many great remedies that are available to help.

Herbs that can help

I have learned from long experience that people do not all respond the same to any substance and a big part of my work is being a kind of 'match-maker' between the person and their herb or herbs. That said I can mention a few personal favourites for the physical tension of the restless legs syndrome have been:

~ Cramp bark: read more about this great physical relaxant here
~ Passionflower: read about this remarkably calming herb to the nerves here
~ Wild Yam: superb for tension in the gut that can radiate to the limbs, read more here

There are many other potential allies for relaxation in the herbal kingdom. The main point is to let Nature take the first step -- don't 'try' to relax by yourself because you'll end up more tense than you started! Find something safe, natural and legal that you can feel relaxing you without doing you any harm and use it regularly. Even if the effects are quite subtle at first, you will see what happens with time -- how much better you do overall.

How you might then go about getting more relaxation into your body is the second step and that has many possible directions...


Viburnum opulus (Cramp bark)

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Progressive muscle relaxation

You may have already read or heard about progressive muscle relaxation. This is where you systematically tense up and then release muscle groups in your body. I think this is an excellent technique to help the restless legs syndrome.

A brief summary of the method is to take a deep breath in, hold the breath, and then tense the area you are working on as hard as you can (you are most likely best to focus on where you have the most agitation or weird 'feelings' in your body). Keep holding the breath and squeeze the area just as tight as you can. It will feel quite unpleasant and it's meant to. The stronger you tense it up the better. When you can't hold your breath any longer let it go in a big whoosh and release all the tension you have been holding on to.

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I have never seen this technique fail to relax a person -- it's a hard one to do but it's reliably effective. There are other, more gentle, relaxation exercises in this section of the website here that may also be of help.

Further relaxation tools

You also may already know that stretching helps to relieve the restless legs syndrome. Any kind of stretching will help but if you want to really explore this subject in depth then go to where you will find one of the great experts in the world of stretching -- a yoga class.

For an overview on the subject of relaxation in general I recommend you read here. This is an article on tension and anxiety but please do not misconstrue my intent, I make no assumption that you are more anxious than anyone else just because you have restless legs, my point is only that if you have restless legs then you may be too tense in your body in general and if so then this article has some further practical and entirely do-able suggestions about how to go about unwinding that gnarly knot ...

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Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as what might potentially help your restless legs or involuntary movements. As it happens the majority of the patients I have personally worked with who have had this problem have been the dryer constitutions, the Eagles & the EBs (Elephant/Butterflies) but, in any case, there is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd