restless legs syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome Massage: 7 Tips To Find Relief

Restless Legs Syndrome Massage: 7 Tips To Find Relief

If you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), you know that the fidgety, intense urge to move your legs at night is more than just a hassle — it can make getting a good night’s sleep feel nearly impossible. And while remedies like stretching or a warm bath can bring relief, they might not always be enough. Luckily, massage therapy may help.

Massage is most often used to relax and soothe tense, achy muscles — but studies have shown that it could also help calm down restless legs.

Here’s what you need to know about restless legs syndrome massage, including the benefits, research, and seven tips to maximize your relief.

What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (also called Willis-Ekbom disease) is a neurological disorder that impacts an estimated 10% of people in the U.S. 

When someone has RLS, they may describe it as an aching, itching, crawling, tingling, or generally uncomfortable sensation. And it can feel like the only way to make the symptoms go away is to move, which is where the term “restless legs” comes from.

For those who have never had RLS, it might seem like the urge to move your legs at night is no big deal. But the truth is, it can be distressing and even lead to other health problems later on. For example, having your sleep disrupted by RLS can make it harder to feel well-rested and energized during the day. And when symptoms are severe, it can even have negative effects on mental health.

What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?

For many people, it’s hard to pinpoint a direct cause for restless legs syndrome. But research suggests that it may have a genetic component — meaning you may be more likely to get it if someone in your family has it too.

Beyond that, RLS may occur alongside other medical conditions, such as:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Pregnancy

Treatments

With mild RLS, many people find that a few simple lifestyle changes around sleep, nutrition, and relaxation can help keep symptoms at bay. But in more severe cases, it may require more comprehensive care. Some common treatment options include:

  • Prescription medications such as dopamine agonists, muscle relaxers, and sleep aids
  • FDA-approved foot wraps or vibrating pads to help bring some external stimulation to the muscles
  • Iron supplementation in the case of patients with iron deficiency 
  • Treating any underlying conditions that may be playing a role in RLS symptoms

Massage for Restless Legs Syndrome: How Can It Help?

Massage offers a wide range of health benefits. But when it comes to RLS specifically, it can help boost blood flow, relax fidgety muscles, and promote better sleep. And studies have shown that a good massage may help reduce RLS symptoms as a whole.

Massage and RLS Research

There have been a handful of studies looking at how massage and restless legs syndrome interact. One of the most interesting was a 2007 case study from the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.

It explored how three weeks of twice-weekly massage affected a 35-year-old woman who had been living with RLS for most of her life. Incredibly, she reported feeling more well-rested during the trial, and felt that massage was more helpful than medications she’d tried in the past.

Of course, these effects were only temporary, since massage can’t completely cure RLS. But despite its short-term relief, other research shows that it can still be worthwhile. A 2022 meta-analysis looking at massage for hemodialysis patients found that it helped to ease RLS symptoms and severity overall.

Study on MedMassager Foot Massager and RLS

More promising research occurred in 2020, in which a pilot trial investigated whether or not the MedMassager MMF07 could help soothe RLS symptoms

The device used in the study is an electric massager with a flat, oscillating surface that makes therapeutic massage easier to access at home. Because of this, it’s also a more practical option for people looking for long-term RLS relief. 

In the trial, 28 patients were split into four experimental groups:

  • No intervention
  • Heat therapy 
  • Foot massager alone
  • Foot massager plus heat therapy

Each of the groups participated in the study for four weeks, adding either heat therapy, massage, both, or neither to their nighttime routine. Remarkably, those in the massager group showed significant improvements in RLS symptom severity and sleep quality by the end of the trial.

7 Tips for Restless Legs Syndrome Massage 

Curious about trying massage for restless legs syndrome? Here are seven tips that can help maximize your relief:

1. Use Massage at Night

As you probably know, restless legs syndrome most often strikes at night — which means it may be helpful to make massage a core part of your bedtime routine. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to make a trip to the spa to reap the benefits of massage daily. Instead, you can use a variety of hands-on techniques — like kneading, gliding, and squeezing — for just a few minutes while you watch your favorite show or read a book. And to make things easier, you could even try an electric or manual massage tool.

2. Roll Out Your Muscles

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is another easy way to incorporate more self-massage into your life. SMR is a type of slow, steady massage that you can perform with the help of tools like foam rollers and tennis balls. 

To get started, here’s a simple technique that can help you stimulate your leg muscles:

  • For this technique, you’ll need a foam roller and a comfortable, flat surface, such as a yoga mat.
  • Begin by facing the ground and resting the front of your right thigh on the roller. 
  • Use your arm strength and opposite leg to roll back and forth with moderate pressure for 30 seconds. Feel free to rotate your body to reach the muscles at different angles.
  • Then, flip over and repeat this process with your hamstring muscles for 30 seconds more.
  • Finally, sit and place the roller under your right calf.
  • Lift your body and mindfully roll the calf using moderate-to-deep pressure for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

3. Try a Hands-On Calf Massage

Giving yourself a leg massage without any tools can be tiring. But by keeping the session brief (around 3 to 5 minutes) and mainly using your knuckles, you can find relief without wearing out your hands and fingers.

To get started, here’s one quick, hands-on calf massage technique you can use anytime:

  • Begin by warming up your left calf muscle with long, gliding strokes. Feel free to add a few drops of oil or lotion here to reduce friction.
  • Continue to glide your hands over the muscles for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Now, use your knuckles to slowly massage your inner calf muscle with moderate pressure. Start from just below the shin bone and massage towards the back of the leg for 30 seconds. 
  • Finally, it’s time to target the outer calf. Use your knuckles to massage in an upward motion, starting near the ankle and moving toward the knee, for 60 seconds.
  • Repeat on the right leg.

4. Use an Oscillating Foot Massager

Person resting calf muscles on vibrating foot massager.

An oscillating foot massager like the MedMassager Foot Massager Classic combines the power of massage and vibration therapy to stimulate the muscles. And it not only works for the feet, but it can also be used directly on the calves. Here’s how:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit, and set your feet flat on the device’s massage surface.
  • Turn the massager to its lightest setting to warm up the feet muscles for 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Dial up the pressure to your desired intensity and allow it to massage for 3 to 5 minutes more.
  • Then, flip the massager around (as pictured above) to target the lower legs. 
  • Allow the vibrations to work deeply into your calf muscles for up to 5 minutes. 
  • Repeat these steps as needed, up to a few times per day.

5. Add Some Warmth 

Many people find that warmth in the form of a hot bath or heating pad can offer some RLS relief. But did you know that you can also infuse heat into your self-massage sessions? For example, you can:

  • Rest your legs on a heated blanket during the massage.
  • Prior to self-massage, heat some towels by throwing them in the dryer for a little while. Or, you can dampen a towel and put it in the microwave for a few seconds. Once it’s warm and toasty, you can heat up your self-massage by placing the towel in between your hand and leg.

6. Explore Different Styles of Massage

When it comes to restless legs syndrome massage, it’s important to find the pressure and style that brings you the most relief. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with a few different modalities.

If you’re not sure where to start, scheduling an appointment with a licensed masseuse can help you find the style that’s best for you. Some of the most relaxing options include:

  • Swedish massage. Swedish massage is a favorite for people who want to relax tense, achy muscles. This modality uses long, light-pressure strokes, gliding, and kneading to bring whole-body relief.
  • Trigger point therapy. Trigger point therapy is a great option for people who are prone to knots. It involves using sustained pressure to break up tight, painful bands of muscle.
  • Deep tissue massage. This style uses deep pressure to work into painful problem areas. It can be a bit intense for some people, but others find it extremely beneficial.
  • Hot stone massage. This modality involves using warm, smooth stones in combination with classic massage techniques. 

7. Experiment with Essential Oils

Research has shown that specific essential oils — such as lavender — may increase the relief you get from your self-massage routine.

One small 2022 study looked at the difference between baby oil vs. lavender oil massage for 58 hemodialysis patients with RLS. By the end of the study, the lavender oil group reported lower RLS severity and better quality of life scores compared to the control group.

So, how can you try essential oil massage for yourself? Simply mix two to three drops of your favorite scent into a dollop of lotion, and massage it into your legs for a few minutes before bed.

Massage Precautions & Safety Tips 

In general, restless legs syndrome massage is a safe and relaxing tool — but it may not be right for everyone. Of course, it all depends on your personal health history, but here are some signs that you should avoid massage and/or talk to your doctor first:

  • You have skin conditions such as varicose veins, sores, or open wounds on your legs.
  • You have signs or symptoms of a blood clotting disorder.
  • You are currently pregnant.
  • You have any health condition that massage may interact with, such as osteoporosis, cancer, kidney conditions, liver conditions, etc. 

Once you’ve got the all-clear to get started, it’s still important to pay attention to how your body responds. Take note of what feels soothing (and what doesn’t), and be sure to avoid any techniques that cause discomfort or pain.

Other RLS Remedies

Aside from massage, here are some other steps you can take to calm your legs, get deeper sleep, and feel better as a whole:

Yoga & Stretching

Yoga and stretching can help soothe RLS symptoms, melt away stress, and even support heart health. 

You can try a range of different stretches until you find the ones that work best for you. But some popular yoga poses for RLS include:

One-Leg Seated Forward Fold

Sit with your back neutral and straight, and extend one leg out in front of you. Bend your other leg inward so that your foot is resting on the inner thigh, and extend your arms out in front of you. Reach towards the foot and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

This pose helps to stretch the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and calves.

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Legs-up-the-wall is an inverted yoga pose that can help you de-stress and increase circulation. To try it, simply lay with your hips next to a wall and your legs pointed straight up in the air. Hold for a few minutes.

Note: Check with your doctor before trying this pose if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, are pregnant, or have any conditions that affect fluid levels in the body.

Cut Out Caffeine and Nicotine

Some people find that caffeine and nicotine can stimulate the body and worsen RLS symptoms. For this reason, it’s best to cut back on these substances when you can, and especially at night when symptoms tend to show up. 

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

You’ve probably heard that good sleep hygiene can help you ease the insomnia that comes with RLS — but which tips can help most? 

Here are some of the top sleep hygiene habits most recommended by experts:

  • Stick to a consistent bedtime, even on weekends
  • Cut back on screen time (especially blue light) before bed
  • Get enough exercise during the day
  • Avoid eating large, heavy meals at night
  • Try not to nap for longer than 15 to 30 minutes during the day

Look Into Your Nutrition

Did you know that being low in certain nutrients — such as iron or potassium — can sometimes play a role in restless legs syndrome? Thankfully, you can combat this by eating a vibrant diet full of whole foods, including plenty of fruits, leafy greens, seeds, and whole grains.

It’s important to note that you should talk to a doctor if you suspect your RLS symptoms are related to nutrition. They can help identify any deficiencies you may have, and help you get on track to choosing the right foods and supplements to correct them.

The Takeaway on Massage for Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep and movement disorder that comes with an uncomfortable, overpowering urge to move your legs at night. Fortunately, research has shown that massage can help you relax, support your sleep, and potentially make your symptoms more manageable. 

Before getting started, it’s important to check with your doctor to find out whether this natural therapy is right for you. With their green light, you can try a hands-on massage, visit a spa, or even invest in an advanced home tool to reap the benefits of daily, therapeutic massage.

Start your journey by picking up the MedMassager Foot Massager Plus today, or visit this page to learn more about how to use it for RLS relief.

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