Foot Wrap Better Than Drugs for Restless Leg Syndrome

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For anyone suffering RLS, relief in any form is welcome ... but all the better if treatment comes holistically.

Many years ago when I first started hearing about restless leg syndrome (RLS) I thought, "great, pharmaceutical companies pathologizing yet another normal thing – this time a little nervous energy – in order to sell drugs for a nonexistent problem." I kvetched a bit and quickly forgot about it.

But then sometime later, during my first pregnancy I was struck with the most maddening nerve weirdness in my legs. You can probably guess where this is going. I told my OB-GYN that I thought I was having some kind of sciatica thing, and upon explanation of my symptoms, she told me I was experiencing classic RLS. Ooooooh, uhm, hmm.

It was crazy-making. Like an indescribable tickle-itch inside the bones, electricity in the muscles, ants scurrying through the veins ... a need beyond what the mind dictated to wiggle wiggle wiggle the legs. It kept me up at night, it felt like a curse from an especially devious witch, it was nuts.

Thankfully it eased after my baby was born and now only returns for cameo appearances when I’m extra tired; but for those who suffer from RLS chronically, I feel your pain. Or maybe more accurately, I feel your exasperating deep stubborn tickle that makes a mockery of sleep and leads to a slow unraveling of sanity!

Which is all a really long lead up to news about a new treatment that appears to be "significantly" more effective than drugs.

Researchers from Lake Erie Research Institute in Pennsylvania found that an adjustable foot wrap was 1.4 times more effective than the standard pharmaceutical treatment. The team held an eight-week trial and measured treatment using an international scale used in studying the ailment.

A meta-analysis was then used to compare the RLS device with three historic studies of the medication ropinirole and a placebo. The foot wrap showed significantly greater improvement (90 percent) than the ropinirole (63 percent).

Those using the wrap also reported an 82 percent decrease in sleep loss, which is huge. The neurologic disorder is associated with sleep loss that can cause extreme fatigue, anxiety and depression, notes the study's authors.

The device puts adjustable targeted pressure on two muscles in the foot known to calm symptoms of RLS, the abductor hallucis and the flexor hallucis brevis.

"By putting pressure on specific muscles in the feet, we are able to create a response in the brain that relaxes the muscles activated during RLS," says lead researcher, Phyllis Kuhn, MS, PhD. "It's a near perfect example of the body regulating itself without drugs, many of which have the potential for significant adverse side effects."

Historically, drugs used for RLS have included opioids, depressants and dopamine agonists – each of which come with a slew of potentially awful side effects like dizziness, nausea, vomiting and the possibility of addiction.

"Restless legs syndrome really erodes quality of life because it causes extreme fatigue for many patients. As an osteopathic physician, it's a challenge to balance the need to restore sleep while preventing additional harm from medication,” says osteopathic family physician Rob Danoff, DO.

With 10 percent of the U.S. population suffering from some degree of RLS, and more than nine million experiencing moderate to severe symptoms, a simple device like this could make a big dent in medications prescribed. It would also help people who don’t suffer symptoms frequently or severely enough to require a prescription, but who may lose sleep occasionally because of it. Either way, a healthier, less-wasteful, holistic treatment that is more effective than pharmaceuticals? Bring it on.

You can see the device in this video explaining the study. It's not the cutest thing in the world, but it's about a million times cuter than a leg-wiggling tired crazy person, take it from me.