Restless Legs Syndrome is a neurological condition that is now a widely recognized ailment that plagues a significant population of the US. People who have RLS (as much as 10 percent of the US population according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) feel the need to move their legs while sitting still or lying down, often while trying to sleep. Uncomfortable sensations described by sufferers as creeping, itching, crawling, gnawing or itching present themselves at times of lesser movement, particularly at night. Temporary relief may be achieved by moving the legs or feet but this continuous compulsion to move can keep sufferers from relaxing or attaining truly restful sleep.
The Reality of RLS
RLS has been diagnosed for 70 years when doctors began recognizing it as a condition in 1945. Many people self-diagnose RLS but your doctor can confirm that you’re a sufferer and help you with treatment. Like many experiential conditions, RLS is primarily diagnosed based on symptoms. Cramping and involuntary leg twitching that worsens when you’re still or lying down and that increase at the end of an active day are typical complaints of a person with RLS.
Night time is when restless legs syndrome is at its worst and most inconvenient. This can cause serious problems in the sufferer’s ability to fall and stay asleep, which many agree is the worst part of the syndrome. A large group of people also experience involuntary limb movements as they sleep. These jerking motions happen every 20 to 30 seconds on and off through the night and can prevent the sleeper from achieving adequate REM sleep. Sleep deprivation is something that can seriously impact one’s work, relationships, and health.
How can my hot tub help?
If you suffer from RLS and have a hot tub, the key to relief may be in your backyard. Many studies have shown that hot water therapy is effective in both soothing RLS immediately, and when conducted before bed on a regular basis, can help the subject achieve a better night’s sleep. Yes, you can treat restless legs syndrome in the hot tub.
A warm bath before bed or a short session in a hot tub can bring fast relief, especially when combined with light stretching of the calves, hips, and thighs. RLS symptoms are sometimes associated with lower back pain that originates in the lumbar or coccyx region and radiates down the back of the thighs. This is all aided by hot water therapy. Hot tubs and spas bring relief to millions of people suffering from conditions ranging from stress and colds to aiding in digestion. Add RLS to that list. Just 20 minutes spent soaking in a hot tub accompanied by light leg stretches a few hours before your bed time should do the trick.
Execute these stretches in the water as part of your routine:
Slowly transition from pointed to flexed toes on both feet. Try to make it last 20-30 seconds by extending as far as you can in either direction.
Pull one knee up to the chest to stretch the muscles in the back of the leg. Again, do this slowly and hold at the point where you feel the most stretch. Alternate on both sides.
Stand in the middle of the hot tub and lean into a hip stretch by straightening one leg to the side and dipping until you feel the stretch in your hip. Repeat on the other side.
After leaving the water, try kneeling with a straight back while sitting back on your heels. Stand up, stretch your calves by placing both hands on the wall to aid in balance and lean in slowly. Having recently been in warm water will help your muscles be more flexible. Stretch your thighs by lifting your leg behind you by the foot and pulling your ankle toward your rear.
Hot-Cold Contrast Therapy
There has been some evidence to support the use of hot-cold contrast therapy to help increase blow flow in your legs as a way to alleviate RLS symptoms. This can be achieved in a hot tub. If you soak for 10 minutes at a time, spend a minute in the water and then use a cold compress (or snow inside a thin rag if there’s any present around your hot tub) to pack onto your lower limps as you sit out of the tub for 30-45 seconds followed by another minute in the hot water. Once you’ve finished the cycle for 10 minutes or more, under in the hot water for another few minutes to relax your nervous system.
This can also be achieved out of the water using alternating cold and hot compresses.
On an episode of the popular show “The Doctors,” the physicians recommended treating restless legs syndrome with hot tub use to someone who had tried medication for his RLS and couldn’t seem to get a good night’s sleep. The docs noted that hot water is a great way to reduce the painful sensations in the legs and adding it to a relaxing bedtime routine is an excellent way to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Another note: RLS is common in pregnant women. Obviously hot tub use for pregnant women is a little different. First, you should lower the set temperature of your water to be under 100° Fahrenheit and soaking times should be shorter. If possible, try to keep your belly out of the water and just soak your legs. Always consult with your physician before changing your habits during your pregnancy.
While it’s difficult to determine a cause of RLS, most researchers believe that diet, activity levels, and overall lifestyles have an impact on its severity. Making some changes (in conjunction with hot water therapy) can lessen symptoms. Some medicine that is used to treat restless egs syndrome is also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and can have some nasty side effects. If your doctor doesn’t recommend the medication, try all of these other ways to help your restless legs.
Relatively low-impact lower body exercise like swimming, walking, and biking. Movement helps lessen RLS symptoms and relief generally persists as long as the motor activity continues.
Incorporate stretches for the lower legs and back. Yoga and Pilates are both great at lengthening these muscles.
Try swaddling your legs at night or wearing compression socks as a way to increase blood flow.
Sleep with a large pillow between your legs to relieve pressure and tension that may aggravate nighttime RLS.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol (particularly at night). Tobacco can also make symptoms significantly worse.
Stay hydrated. Being dehydrated can intensive RLS symptoms. In addition to avoiding diuretics like caffeine and alcohol, drink liberal mounts of filtered water or decaffeinated tea.
Steer clear from over the counter sleep aids, anti-nausea medications, and antihistamines.
If you are overweight, reducing your caloric intake can reduce leg stress and improve circulation.
Avoid stress—it worsens the symptoms. Try meditation or cutting out unnecessary stressors in your life.
Adding in dietary supplements like Iron and Magnesium often helps sufferers.
Pressure massage can be very helpful from a lower leg massage machine, caring partner, or licensed professional.
Even though RLS drastically affects sleep, try to maintain a consistent sleeping schedule. This can help reduce fatigue that only worsens symptoms and greatly increases stress.
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome, having a hot tub could seriously improve your ability to achieve a good night’s rest. If you are following nearly all of the above recommendations, adding in some hot water therapy will really improve your quality of life. If you have RLS and no hot tub, consider adding one if you have the ability. It could really be a game changer.