Varicose veins and restless legs syndrome cause uncomfortable leg cramping, aching, and itching. Here’s how exercise can help.
Do you often wake at night with unpleasant sensations in your legs that only movement relieves? You could be experiencing restless legs syndrome (RLS), which causes uncontrolled twitching, throbbing, itching, pulling, and crawling in your limbs. The symptoms are typically more pronounced when you try to rest or sleep, making the condition both frustrating and debilitating.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates between 7 to 10 percent of the U.S. population have RLS. Because RLS interrupts sleep, you may feel tired and irritable throughout the day. Treatment depends on the cause of your RLS, such as venous insufficiency, which is also the root cause of varicose veins. Whatever the reason, many RLS patients have found relief through exercise.
But first, what causes RLS?
Although there is no definitive cause for the syndrome, RLS has been connected with several medical conditions. For example, scientists have linked RLS to an imbalance in dopamine, which controls muscle movements.
RLS that occurs during pregnancy, often during the last trimester, should disappear shortly after delivery. Some other causes of RLS include iron deficiency and kidney disease. The syndrome also seems to have a genetic link and runs in families.
Several studies have also pointed to vein disease as another possible underlying cause. Itching, cramping, and aching in the legs are hallmarks of varicose veins and RLS. Varicose vein patients frequently wake up during the night with uncomfortable sensations in the legs, believing they have RLS. Research backs up the connection: A 2007 study found that of 174 subjects with RLS, 62 were also diagnosed with chronic vein disease.
A study published the following year in the same publication noted that patients with both RLS and vein disease reported a reduction in RLS symptoms following an endovenous laser ablation procedure to destroy varicose veins.
If you’re experiencing RLS symptoms, consider visiting a vein specialist for a proper diagnosis. In the meantime, you can look to certain exercises to alleviate your restless legs syndrome symptoms.
Always check with your doctor before starting any exercise program, as not all activities are beneficial in every case. For example, high-intensity workouts such as weight lifting or high-speed running are not usually recommended.
Top six exercises for RLS
Patients may benefit from specific exercises to relieve RLS. Plan for 20 to 30 minutes of stretching or low-impact daily exercises timed well before bedtime. These include:
Calf stretch. Place your arms straight out against either a wall or hold onto the back of a chair. Bend your right knee and move your left leg back, keeping your feet comfortably flat on the floor. You should feel a stretch at the back of your left calf. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Then bend your left knee with your feet flat on the floor. Switch to the other leg and repeat.
Front thigh stretch. Stand straight and pull one of your ankles toward your buttocks. Keep the other leg straight and hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. If needed, stand parallel to a wall for balance.
Hip stretch. Place your left leg on a chair with your knee bent. Keeping your back straight, move your pelvis forward until you feel a gentle stretch at the top of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Low-impact exercises. Physical exercises easy on the joints may also relieve RLS symptoms. Biking at a moderate pace of 10 miles per hour works your leg muscles and helps reduce the effects of RLS. Similarly, swimming or water aerobics relaxes your muscles. A simple 30-minute walk can also build muscle strength while reducing stress.
Yoga. Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility and decrease stress. Avoid intense yoga workouts such as Ashtanga or hot yoga. Challenging poses that add stress to the body should also be avoided.
Pilates. Like yoga, Pilates can improve flexibility, muscle tone, and muscle strength.
Whether you’re taking prescribed medication for your RLS or not, exercise is a proven vital component in putting your RLS symptoms to bed.
Does vein disease cause your RLS?
Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating all forms of vein disease, including varicose veins, spider veins, and RLS related to venous insufficiency. We can evaluate you and recommend tailored treatments to relieve your painful symptoms. Contact one of our offices near you for a consultation today.