How I Fought Back Against Restless Legs Syndrome

RLS the Thief

Restless Legs Syndrome snuck up on me.  Like a lot of adults over 40 (especially after having kids) I love to sleep, but RLS slowly stole it away from me. The first time I experienced RLS, it was a very unassuming, minor sensation that the weight of a comforter relieved.  Occasionally, over weeks and months I noticed a need to lie on my side. After rolling onto the annoyed side (usually my right hip and thigh), I’d  be able to drift off.

Over the next couple of years, the need to lie on my side to relieve the odd sensation in my legs got more frequent.  It wasn’t long before I graduated to the pounding-my-leg-with-the-bottom-of-my-fist technique. Soon I had to repeat the fist-pounding more than once.  It wasn’t long before I’d wake up after briefly falling asleep and have to repeat the fist-pounding again to get back to sleep.

Next came the “whole-leg shake.” When I went to bed and my RLS flared up it got to the point that I had to resort to lifting my whole leg in the air and wiggling and shaking it until the sensation died down enough to let me relax enough to get to sleep. Inevitably my attempts at sleep devolved into having to get out of bed and walk around.  Gone were the nights of simply pulling up the comforter or rolling onto my side.  However, as anyone with RLS knows, dealing with its symptoms using your own energy leads to the laws of diminishing returns: the more you roll over, pound, shake, wiggle and get out of bed to walk around, the more awake you become and the more difficult it is to get to sleep.

RLS sufferers also know that going to a doctor to complain about a “weird feeling” in your legs (or arms, etc.) at bedtime seems a little silly. It’s not like we’re having a heart attack or we have cancer or even sleep apnea- that everyone knows can kill you. RLS sneaks up on you and slowly robs you of sleep. At first you’re just tired. You try to deal with it as it comes. As the lack of sleep compounds, fatigue sets in: just a general reduction in the way you function. Life is busy. Life is tiring. It’s just a part of life…

Then fatigue turns into exhaustion: the compounding loss of sleep steals your energy, your motivation, your interests. Slowly life changes into something dramatically different and the noticeable “recognized” health problems become prominent.  Like RLS snuck up on me over time, RLS sneaks up on your health and slowly steals it away.

RLS isn’t something that can be tested for in the traditional ways.

There’s no blood test, x-ray or hi-tech scan that can show you have RLS. Instead, it is completely determined by your experience with the symptoms, which is why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about it, even if it feels silly.  A way to tell if your symptoms mean you might have RLS is by answering these questions in the “U.R.G.E.” survey:

  • Urge: Do you get a strong Urge to move your legs (or arms) that you cannot resist?
  • Rest: Does the urge typically happen when you are at Rest, sitting or lying down?
  • Get better: Do the symptoms usually Get better when you move or provide stimulation?
  • Evening: Are the symptoms worse in the Evening or at bed time?

If you answer yes to these questions, you may want to talk to your doctor about RLS.

For me the answers were yes, yes, yes, yes.

Once I knew what it was I had to decide what to do about it.  No way was I going to take medication: too may risks with interactions and I didn’t want to mess with what I call “snake oil” products- claiming all kinds of benefit with no proof.  Luckily I found the Relaxis® pad.  It was (and is) the only non-medicine product I found that has actually been clinically tested and cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  That FDA clearance gave me the confidence that I wasn’t throwing my money away on gimmicks and snake oil. Since it isn’t a drug, I also didn’t have to worry about side effects or drug interactions.  It was worth a shot.

The first time I tried Relaxis I was uncertain, but hopeful.

I remember being in bed with annoying symptoms in my right thigh/hip area.  I located a motor in the pad and stuck it right under the worst spot.  When I turned on the pad I felt the vibration right away and messed around with the intensity until it was strong enough to be noticeable during the RLS attack and not so strong as to be too much (the lights were on about half way up the controller).  It was a bit like a deep massage, but not like a massage at all.

At first it was really strange to have the RLS symptoms and to have the vibration going at the same time.  It was a lot of sensory input to take all at once, although the vibration was considerably more pleasant than the RLS!   It was almost like the two sensations were fighting for attention in my brain.  I laid there for a few minutes and noticed that sometimes the vibration was more prominent than the RLS.  When I remembered to relax and focus on the vibration, the vibration started to win the attention battle in my brain.  After about ten minutes the vibration became much more noticeable than the RLS and was even pleasant and somewhat soothing for me.  As the RLS symptoms became less noticeable, I began to relax more and ultimately fell asleep before the pad turned itself off.  That is a great feature, by the way.  It slows down the vibration for about five minutes at the end of the 30 minute cycle so there’s no abrupt change to wake you up again.

The next time I used my pad I went through the same process: a battle for attention, a conscious focus on the vibration, and finally the pleasant vibration won again. After a few uses I realized that the vibration in the Relaxis pad was doing all the rolling, pounding, and walking for me.

Instead of providing all the external sensation myself, I could lay still, relax and ultimately drift off to sleep because my Relaxis was doing all the work.

Since then I have gotten used to focusing on the vibration right away and each time the vibration manages to overwhelm/interrupt/become more prominent than the RLS.  At this point I’m so used to using my Relaxis for my RLS symptoms that I don’t have to focus on the vibration as much anymore. I have experienced such relief and it’s such a pleasant sensation that I am confident I will get the relief I need.  My Relaxis is like a trusted blankie or teddy bear: I keep it by my bed and it’s comforting just to know I have it there whenever I need it. Until there is a proven, safe cure for RLS, I will never part with my pad.

The important thing to remember is Relaxis is a tool.  You have to work with it.  For some people the vibration gives almost immediate relief.  For some people it may take moving the pad around, adjusting the controller and even multiple uses over time to experience maximum benefit.  There are times I fall asleep quickly when I use Relaxis and there are times I have to crank up the vibration to compete effectively with my symptoms.  I have had to reposition the pad to effectively hit the right spots.  I have also had to use the pad for two consecutive cycles before falling asleep because my symptoms were so intense and uncomfortable.  However, every time I have used my Relaxis to help me sleep when I have an RLS attack, I have fallen asleep.  Every. Single. Time.

In the same way RLS snuck up on me slowly, I used Relaxis to sneak up on RLS.  Yes, the two sensations compete at first, but over time I have used my Relaxis pad and its lovely vibrating motors to fight back and, get my sleep, and therefore my life, back.

By Tiffany Jones, RLS sufferer and employee of Relaxis