How To Ease Restless Legs From Opiate Withdrawal

Restless Legs or Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of opiate detox. It was easily one of the 5 most irritating symptoms whenever I was in withdrawal.

For those not familiar with the term, Restless Legs is a syndrome commonly associated with the following symptoms:

  • The unquenchable desire to move your legs. It can happen in other regions of the body but 90% of the time it’s the legs.
  • Twitching and jerking motions during rest or sleep
  • The overwhelming urge to scratch an “itch” in the legs. I often described it as wanting to scratch my leg bones!
  • Odd sensations that can only be reduced by walking or rubbing your legs.

There are other ways that Restless Leg Syndrome can manifest itself but those are the most prevalent ones. RLS is often a symptom of opiate detox and -for many- it can be agonizing. It can keep you awake and also prevent you from being able to sit down and rest which are the two things you want most when going through opiate detox.

The exact cause of restless legs is unknown however, evidence suggests that it has to do with the neurotransmitter Dopamine that is released in the brain. With respect to opiate detox, this makes perfect sense due to the fact that dopamine production slows to a crawl when you stop taking opiates and begin to go through withdrawal. As a result of disruption in sleep patterns, RLS can further hamper dopamine production which only makes matters worse. This is partly why a restful night’s sleep is so important during withdrawal; but it’s hard when your legs seem to want to walk off without your body during the night!

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of what it is and how it is caused, I’d like to share with you some ways to help reduce the discomfort of restless legs during opiate withdrawal.

Easing the severity of restless legs during withdrawal is 2 parts prevention and one part “treatment.”

One of the best ways to help reduce RLS is any sort of exercise that works the muscles in the legs. This is particularly effective if you suffer from it during the night when you are trying to sleep. Giving your legs a good workout can help stretch and tire the muscles which can significantly reduce the twitching often felt at night. I’m not sure if it is the build up of extra lactic acid or some other physiological anomaly but I can only tell you from personal experience that exercise works. Even a light walk every evening (or whenever RLS bothers you) can help reduce these symptoms. Exercise is also a great thing to do when in withdrawal for a variety of other reasons.

The second preventative measure that has helped me in the past is to stay well hydrated. Always have a bottle of water with you and try to take consistent sips throughout the day. Don’t drink huge quantities all at once because your body will just expel it a lot faster.

A good analogy would be the difference between heavy rainstorms and longer lasting rain showers. Heavy rainstorms produce a lot of water but the ground quickly becomes saturated and flooding happens. When rain is lighter and lasts longer, the ground has a better ability to absorb the water and retain it. So drink water at a moderate pace throughout the day and it should help with your restless legs.

The third piece of advice for Restless Leg Syndrome is what I like to call the “Towel Trick”. I used this “treatment” consistently when I had RLS and it worked well for me. Granted, nothing will totally get rid of your symptoms but this can help you get to sleep and hopefully achieve better quality sleep.

I was actually introduced to the Towel Trick by my Mom at an early age due to cramps and pain caused by “growing pains”. These types of symptoms occur when young people have growth spurts which cause the joints and muscles to expand faster than normal. Later in life (much later of course) I remembered the towel trick and tried it on my RLS. Short of cutting my legs completely off (joke), I was willing to try anything to reduce my restless legs during withdrawal. So I tried the Towel Trick and lo and behold it helped a lot!

“The Towel Trick”:

NOTE: I use bedtime as an example but this can be done anytime

  1. Before going to bed, take a hot bath and give your legs a good massage.
  2. After you massage your legs for a bit, take a product like “Ben Gay” or something similar (obviously do not use Ben Gay if you are allergic) and rub it onto your legs. Pay particular attention to areas like your knees, thighs and calves (essentially the whole leg I suppose!). I would recommend using the “cream” form of Ben Gay to avoid any greasiness after application. Give the cream a few minutes to absorb.
  3. Take two terry cloth bath towels (medium sized if you can get them) and wrap one towel firmly around each leg (like a bandage extending from the thighs to the ankles). Be careful not to wrap it so tightly as to cut off circulation. Keep the towels in place by tucking the corners of the towel in at each end; it’s important to keep them firmly in place when you sleep. Gently slip into bed while trying not to unravel the towels…one leg at a time works best. If you can get someone to help you lift each leg carefully into the bed that’s even better.

That’s the Towel Trick!

Why do I think the Towel Trick works? One reason is due to the soothing heat that you will get from the Ben Gay and the towels. The other (perhaps more important) reason is the fact that the towels are putting compression on your leg muscles. This compression can trick the body into thinking that your muscles are being flexed and in motion. These are my theories and perhaps it lacks clinical evidence but hey, it worked for me!

As I mentioned, this has helped me many times during withdrawal and I hope it is effective for you. If you follow the preventative measures that I’ve outlined and then use the Towel Trick I think you find that your Restless Leg Syndrome can be a bit easier to tolerate. It’s certainly a more palatable option than amputating your legs in frustration (again…joke) and it may even help reduce a lot of your other opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Please feel free to send us any comments on this or, if you have any of your own tricks that seem to work, please let me know!

Hope it helps!

-George