Photo: woods wheatcroft photography

Are Your Legs Keeping You Up?

RLS - restless leg syndromeMany years ago, I had a client whose wife would not sleep in the same bed with him because his legs violently shook while he slept. The medication he took wasn’t working, so, desperate, he called me.

About 10% of the US population has Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a condition described as a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move the body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. Before getting Rolfed 40 years ago, my legs would kick when I slept. I later learned that I had RLS. Studying RLS, I realized I also had many of the co-conditions such as ADHD, body tension, general twitching, fibromyalgia (FMS), and often good health. A 2008 study found 64% of participants with FMS also had RLS.[1]

There is no genetic condition or infection that is linked to RLS. A few of us tense people seem to have legs that get restless as we sleep—when you think they would be the most relaxed. But what I realized was that, as they lie in bed, the bodies of people with RLS try to relax more by shaking out the tension.

I’ve never seen a person with RLS who didn’t have exceedingly tight legs. Rock hard tight. At best, we could superficially relax, but we can’t release the buildup of chronic tension. Normal stretching or massage is not enough to get the chronic tension released.

Healing RLS

“Some doctors express the view that the incidence of restless leg syndrome is exaggerated by manufacturers of drugs used to treat it.” [2] There certainly may be some truth to that; the clients who saw me said their drugs did a poor job treating their symptoms. These people wanted to heal the condition, not just treat the symptoms, though. To do that the entire body needs to release its version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Unfortunately, there is no drug that releases tension; it’s something the body must do.

Realize that RLS is not just a neurological issue, and is also a soft tissue condition. Sure, the nerves play a part, but the stress is stored in the soft tissue. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can get the most stressed out clients to heal their ailments, including RLS.[3] Mindfulness teaches the body turn off the survival response of stress so

[1] A lot of people with fibromyalgia (FMS) have sleep disorders, and restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common one. In a 2008 study, 64% of participants with FMS also had RLS.

[2] Woloshin, Steven; Schwartz, Lisa M. (2006). “Giving Legs to Restless Legs: A Case Study of How the Media Helps Make People Sick”. PLoS Medicine 3 (4): e170.


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