Restless Leg Syndrome
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
I suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome.
I have no idea when it started, but it’s something that I’ve lived with for quite a few years.
I don’t know.
It’s hard to pinpoint when it began, because although this may sound odd, RLS is also exceedingly easy to forget. When I am not under attack, so to speak, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. It doesn’t even occur to me that it might present itself as an issue at the most inconvenient moment. When you suddenly feel that first tingling spasm shoot down your leg, you know you’re in for hours of awkward agony.
RLS is difficult to explain to someone that has never experienced it, but in saying that, I’ve heard that everyone endures the condition differently. Myself… I get the combo fun party pack. I get the sharp, tingling irritations, the fierce muscle knots and the uncontrollable urge to shake out my legs in the form of either a quick jolt or a violent convulsion.
Some apparently experience the sensation of itching and crawling. Even ‘pins and needles’ doesn’t properly illustrate the torture for me.
My restless legs usually hit when I’ve just settled into bed… or when I’m traveling. Being confined to the small seat of any airline economy class is the worst. For hours, I will end up pounding my fists into my leg muscles, erratically jolting them or shaking them out, in a manic and absurd manner.
The horrendously unfortunate part can be the exhaustion, sleep deprivation, depression, memory impairment… and the travel difficulties. Restless leg syndrome is significantly more prevalent at higher altitudes, which can make a flight unbearable.
So… I recently decided to do some research as to how to best calm the agitation while in flight.
A few little tips for RLS travellers, such as myself.
1. Travel earlier in the day.
Ok. Good advice. This is sometimes easier said than done though. As we all know, we tend to fall prey to whatever time our flight is advertised as leaving, and often this is determined through seat sales and availability. But… if there is an earlier option… I’ll take it from now on. I did read that dopamine levels naturally fall towards the end of the day, which is why RLS is often worse in the evening.
2. Stay hydrated.
Preventing dehydration is a good thing for any ailment, especially RLS. If you look at it for the mere fact that you’ll have to get up more to pee, it means you’ll be stretching your legs more. It’s a win win. I try to always have water on me… but, just like everyone else, I tend to forget too.
3. Avoid caffeine.
Eeek… you can’t tell someone to opt for the earlier flight and then take away their coffee! Recent research shows caffeine may not be that big of a problem, but they do recommend to stay away from it later in the afternoon, so I guess that’s possible.
4. Avoid nicotine.
Does nicotine really trigger RLS? I’m not a smoker… but I’ve managed to find two conflicting options on this theory.
When you stop smoking, your blood circulation improves. Nicotine is a stimulant and considered a trigger, and studies have shown how improved blood circulation can reduce RLS symptoms. BUT… on the other hand, they say your body can get irritable if it is suddenly deprived of nicotine. So maybe smoke ‘em if you got ‘em? Not on the plane though.
5. Avoid alcohol.
What kind of moronic traveler doesn’t partake in a pre-flight cocktail to cheer on the vacation? This is definitely not good news for those of us that consider the airport lounge the ultimate starting point of any journey.
Some say alcohol exacerbates restless leg syndrome. Some say there is clearly no link between the two.
Considering both professional assessments, the studies of the latter conclusion is what I will act in accordance with.
Bottoms up, RLS!
6. Avoid sugar.
Apparently carbohydrates and sweets are an enormous trigger for restless legs. A sad reality, though perhaps a blessed relief for those of us who resigned ourselves to throwing any diets plans out the window for holiday’s sake.
7. Eat bananas.
If you’re headed south of the border, it might be a good idea to get a head start on this potassium-packed tropical fruit. Increasing your potassium can help decrease restless leg syndrome symptoms. If you aren’t so much into devouring a multitude of bananas pre-flight, you do have the ability to resort to supplements. My extensive Google research recommends to always speak with your doctor first though. Too much potassium may initiate a whole new series of complications, making you wish you were only suffering from the shaky leg.
8. Get an aisle seat.
Always. Highly recommended. An aisle seat is better for stretching your legs out. An aisle seat makes it more convenient to get up and go for an airline aisle stroll.
9. Walk / Stretch.
Seatbelt sign off? Get up and mosey down that cramped airline aisle at every convenient opportunity. Walking and stretching will temporarily relieve the nasty sensations, and make you feel somewhat normal for a limited time only.
10. Get compression socks.
Many RLS sufferers, including myself, find relief on long flights by wearing compression sleeves. They aren’t flattering, and you won’t win any fashion awards, but the good news is they sometimes work. In the medical world, these tight socks are used to support muscles and relieve discomfort. Just don’t wear shorts or a skirt, and you’ll be fine! Under your pants, no one will even notice you have them on.
11. Massage your legs to increase blood flow.
I look crazy when I do this, but it works. Kinda. It actually doesn’t really work at all. Nothing really rids me of the discomfort, but the pounding and the deep tissue rubs tend to temporarily relieve the misery.
12. Lavender soap.
Has anyone heard of The Dr. Oz Show? This particular doctor recommends sleeping with a bar of lavender soap under your sheets at night. It seems odd, but apparently lavender soap works to alleviate RLS.
Yes, lavender reduces pain and inflammation.
Yes, lavender is known for its ability to calm the nervous system.
I have seriously considered taking a bar of lavender soap to sit on, although that might be even stranger than pounding on my legs during the flight.
Perhaps a lovely aromatic lavender body spray will work its magic?
We can all eat bananas, avoid coffee & alcohol, inundate ourselves with water, sit on soap, wear ugly socks, walk, stretch and pound our legs… but hey, medication works wonders too.
Slight relief of very mild symptoms can be obtained by using over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Want something stronger?
Rotigotine (Neupro) and pramipexole (Mirapex) are approved for the treatment of moderate to severe RLS.
It can save your plane ride… if it works.
It’s a crap shoot.
If it doesn’t work, ensure you’ve got some soap and bananas as back up.
There is no cure.
That is the bad part.
I’ve also read that a hot bath or shower can work to relieve the agony, but until more sophisticated lavatories become available in economy class, I think we’re all hooped.