Aching, itching and cramping sensations in the thighs, calves and feet are symptoms of restless legs syndrome, or RLS. For many people, these bothersome symptoms arise after periods of inactivity, generally at night. Because movement relieves the tension and tingling, most people lose sleep by pacing and stretching when they could be resting. Among the many treatment options is magnesium, an over-the-counter dietary supplement. Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium.
Magnesium is essential for the proper growth and maintenance of bones and for the functioning of nerves and muscles.Your body contains around 25 g of magnesium, approximately half of which exists in your bones. You get this mineral from your diet, and typically from foods that are high in fiber, such as legumes, nuts, vegetables and whole grains. Some people use magnesium supplements to increase their intake and to prevent magnesium deficiencies; others might use magnesium to potentially relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, to prevent osteoporosis, reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes, decrease cholesterol levels, prevent kidney stones and to help control restless leg syndrome.
Limited research suggests that magnesium supplementation might decrease the symptoms associated with RLS, which in turn helps increase sleep in RLS-affected individuals. The exact role of magnesium is uncertain however, since some people with the condition have low levels of magnesium, while other have high blood levels of the mineral.
Safety and Risks
Magnesium is likely safe for most people, when used as directed by a doctor, although high doses -- which exceed 350 mg daily -- might cause an unsafe buildup of the mineral, leading to serious and potentially fatal side effects. Mild side effects, such as stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are also possible. Talk to your doctor about the safety and effectiveness of magnesium before using the supplement to treat RLS.
Because magnesium is not likely to cure RLS, you might consider using other remedies to relieve the symptoms. Warm baths help calm the leg muscles, as do massages and hot and cold packs. Since stress and fatigue can aggravate RLS, employing stress management techniques and improving your sleep patterns might reduce symptoms as well. Start by keeping the bedroom cool and quiet to promote better sleep. Use meditation and yoga to reduce stress. Avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol might also improve your condition.