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Acupuncture Helps Restless Legs Syndrome

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

Restless legs syndrome is a medical condition that produces an irresistible impulse to move the legs due to intense, uncomfortable sensations. The specific types of sensations can vary with each patient. The feeling can be described as achy, prickly, pins and needles, and sometimes no words can describe what the patient feels. One thing that does not vary, giving this syndrome its name, is the inescapable desire to put the legs in motion to alleviate the discomfort. Usually the condition acts up when the person is at rest, making relaxation and sleep very difficult.

Bedtime is an especially challenging time for sufferers of restless legs syndrome, as the only relief from the pain is to move the legs. Often patients cannot achieve a full night’s rest, even if asleep, due to 'nighttime twitching.' This is the involuntary movement of body parts, especially the legs, during sleep. It can disrupt and decrease the quality of sleep.  Additionally, there may be anxiety, anger or depression over the disruption in sleep and lifestyle.  Secondary problems involving sleep deprivation, insomnia, fatigue, depression and anxiety often occur as well. The German doctor, Theodore Wittmaack, who originally diagnosed this condition back in 1861, called it anxietas tibiarum. This translates as anxiety of the lower leg muscles (the tibialis).

This is an apt description of the condition because daily activities such as watching a movie, sitting down for a meal or traveling can trigger restless legs syndrome. Anytime a person is at rest for too long, pain may arise. According to the philosophy of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, one reason why restless legs syndrome occurs is because there are long-standing obstructions in the meridians of the lower legs. Meridians are invisible pathways on which Qi travels throughout the body. Qi is the basis and essential energy required by the body to sustain all life activities.

Your acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner can address the symptoms of restless legs syndrome and may choose a treatment involving the use of Chinese therapeutic massage to help remove obstructions in the legs. One example is tui na, a Chinese system of massage that applies a hands-on stimulation of points on the body, similar to those points an acupuncturist would activate with acupuncture needles.

The goal of this massage technique is to strengthen the flow of Qi which, in turn, strengthens blood circulation in the body. Tui na also employs other techniques to achieve this goal such as kneading, rolling, pushing and pulling specific areas of the body. This can encourage a more vigorous flow of blood to the lower extremities in order to relieve the anxiety of the lower legs.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can treat the physical and emotional distress associated with restless legs syndrome, as can it relieve symptoms of medical problems associated with restless legs syndrome, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy.

Contact a practitioner near you to learn more about how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can improve your musculoskeletal health!

About the Author:   Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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