Leg and the restless can't sit still. it's not that i'm just antsy. I am literally physically incapable of sitting still because I have restless leg syndrome, which means my legs hurt and I have to move them all the time.
On a recent flight to California, the seats were so close together that I drove my boyfriend absolutely batshit for six hours. On top of it all, I suspect that he thinks I'm making the condition up. Well, I'm not .
This affliction affects approximately 10 per cent of the adult population of North America.
Most sufferers are women. It gets worse at night and is one of the main causes of insomnia (and probably a lot of breakups). People with restless leg often have a difficult time describing the sensation, though commonly used words are "tingling," "creepy-crawly" and "pulling."
Mineral deficiency may be a factor. Smoking and alcoholism may also play a role.
What the experts say
"One simple thing you can do is put a couple of cups of Epsom salts (magnesium phosphate) into a hot bath. Or add 10 drops of pure essential oil of lavender and several drops of pure essential oil of camomile to a bath. You can also make a tea to be taken in the late afternoon, a combination of cramp bark , passionflower and camomile flowers. Pour a cup of boiled water over 1 heaping teaspoon of the blend and let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes. A calcium and magnesium supplement would be a good idea as well. Avoid stimulants like caffeine.
CELINA AINSWORTH , herbalist, Toronto
"One thing we find [in sufferers] is low magnesium; second most common is low potassium, and third is low blood PH. People eat a lot of sugar, and it lowers their blood PH. We put them on a healthier diet . Our foods are increasingly magnesium-deficient, and low magnesium can cause high blood pressure, achiness, fatigue and anxiety. Magnesium is the calming mineral. Second-line treatment would be stretching the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles [back part of the lower leg] for five minutes right before bed. Low back or pelvis injuries or degenerative disc disease can sometimes sensitize the autonomic nervous system in the legs, causing the syndrome. Here we use prolotherapy , the injection of minerals and other natural substances into the joint to stimulate the repair of ligaments. We try to cure the problem rather than using a medication to control it.
ROSS HAUSER , MD, specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Oak Park, Illinois
"Restless leg is common, but a lot of people don't seek medical help because they think it's insignificant or attribute it to insomnia, stress, arthritis or muscle cramps. It could be caused by a vitamin-mineral-electrolyte imbalance, so make sure you eat fresh fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich foods . There is a genetic link in about 50 per cent of cases, and those with low iron and vitamin B12 tend to be more prone to it. Often, if you correct anemia you'll see a big improvement. Diabetes, Parkinson's and kidney failure can trigger the condition. It can also be caused by an impingement on spinal nerves, so seeing a chiropractor is a good idea.
KATE WHARTON , naturopath, Toronto
"If we see patients with severe restless leg, we do a blood test to see if they're anemic. SSRIs like Prozac can provoke motor problems like restless leg. It's also associated with medical conditions, the most common being kidney problems. The syndrome has nothing to do with people who are just twitchy or whose leg constantly goes up and down. That's more habit. With restless leg, a bed partner will tell you that you kick while asleep. There are medications that increase the drive to sleep , which allows you to sleep through it. Drugs that are used to treat Parkinson's , when taken at low doses, will eliminate symptoms. Opiates can take away the sensations, but that's our last choice.'
DR. JAMES MacFARLANE , lab director, Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology, Toronto
"We check people's tongue and pulse and treat accordingly. Spontaneous energy is common in restless leg syndrome. It's like a match lighting up, but there's nothing to burn. Or it could be a blood stasis; the blood gets stuck, causing a blockage in energy. Anything to do with pain or too much movement has to do with too much yang, too little yang or a stagnation of chi. We use herbs that bring up the yin in the blood or move the chi. Acupuncture is useful on local points. Six people can come in with restless leg, and I treat them six different ways.'
KATE KENT , acupuncturist, TCM practitioner, Toronto