Why are restless legs a problem when travelling?
Like many people, I love travelling and visiting new places. What I don’t love is the long journeys it often takes to get there, and the hours spent cooped up in a car, plane or train. So I can only imagine how much worse this is for people with Restless Leg Syndrome!
Restless Leg Syndrome is a condition where someone feels the need to move their legs almost constantly to relieve discomfort, tingling sensations or ‘pins and needles’. It tends to get worse at night, in the evening or when sitting still for too long. This can make a long-haul flights, long-distance drives or cross-country train journeys a real pain.
To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of tips that can equally benefit people with Restless Leg Syndrome, and people who simply experience restless, uncomfortable legs when travelling – and I’m sure that’s probably most of us!
I’ve focused mainly on long-haul flying as this usually proves to be the biggest challenge for people with restless legs – but these tips will be equally useful for long train, car or bus journeys.
1. Pick a good seat
Pick an aisle seat if you can. This lets you get up to walk up and down the aisle as often as you like (provided it’s safe to do so). It will make it easier to boost circulation in your legs often without disturbing the person next to you.
2. Keep busy
Take something along with you to distract your mind. For some a book is enough, but for many something a bit more mentally engaging might be necessary. Try taking a crossword, Sudoku or puzzle book with you to keep distracted from the restless feeling in your legs. Or load up your tablet or laptop with the latest series or a good film, ready to binge-watch and let the time fly by.
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3. Keep moving
Don’t sit down in the departure lounge. You’re going to be sitting down for a long time while flying, so make the most of the time you aren’t confined to your seat. Walk around the airport, have a look in the shops and check out all the interesting cafes and restaurants.
4. Use up your energy
A great way to de-stress and burn off extra energy is to get some exercise before your journey. This will be easier of your flight is scheduled for later in the day, but it's definitely worth giving it a go if you have some extra time. Try a light jog or swim if you can, or even just some yoga in the living room!
5. Dress appropriately
Try wearing compression socks. These socks are tighter at the ankle than at the knee, which helps stimulate blood flow from the legs up, and can help reduce feelings of restlessness and discomfort. You can find them online, in pharmacies or in travel shops.
6. Upgrade if you can
If you have the means to, try booking a first class or business class seat which will provide you with much more leg room to stretch your legs out. If you are a regular flier, try to fly with the same airline to build up air miles, which can usually be exchanged for upgrades to business or first class.
7. Watch what you drink
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, sugary drinks and alcohol before and during your flight. These can trigger restless legs, so stick to water if you're feeling thirsty to avoid suffering on long journeys.
8. Increase your magnesium
Increase your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is vital for proper muscle and nerve function, which both play a key role in Restless Leg Syndrome. Take magnesium supplements in the week or two running up to your flight, and increase your consumption of magnesium rich foods – pumpkin seeds, mackerel, spinach, fig, brown rice, quinoa and avocado.
9. Soothe your legs
Use a soothing cream or gel such as Venagel to relieve discomfort. Venagel cools and soothes hot, uncomfortable and heavy legs, and the action of rubbing it onto the legs also helps to stimulate blood flow. It comes in a 100ml tube, so you can pop it in your hand luggage and take it with you!
10. Up your iron
Increase your iron intake. Iron works with dopamine, which plays an important role in movement and is a crucial factor for RLS. Restless leg syndrome has been linked to iron deficiency, so if you suffer from heavy menstrual periods as well as RLS, there may be a connection. Increase your consumption of iron-rich foods such as spinach, mussels, beef, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts.
Hopefully these tips will make your next trip a bit more bearable! If you are really struggling with your restless legs, you should consider consulting your GP who can prescribe medication for severe cases; but I always recommend trying as many natural solutions as possible first.
Originally written on 09/09/2016, updated on 30/11/2018.