The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Acupuncture Calm Your Restless Legs?

One reader reports significant relief from Willis-Ekbom disease through acupuncture. Will a few well-placed needles calm your restless legs?
Close up view of woman holding a needle in an acupuncture therapy

A friend noticed that when he rose early with his dogs, before 6 am, his neighbor’s light was invariably on. He inquired why and learned that the neighbor suffers from restless legs syndrome, which wakes him up in the wee hours. With his medication, he is able to sleep a bit earlier in the night, but by early morning he can’t stay in bed. Many people suffer with restless legs syndrome (RLS) and would like a good way to manage it. How can you calm your restless legs?

Are There Non-Drug Approaches to Calm Your Restless Legs?

Q. I suffered from restless legs syndrome for many years and took ropinirole (Requip) to treat it. The medication worked, but it caused me many worrying symptoms on a regular basis: dizziness, nausea, feeling like I was going to pass out, even vomiting at times. However, if I didn’t take the drug, I couldn’t sleep because my legs started acting up the minute I laid down in bed.

I accepted this until I happened to speak to someone who recommended that I see an acupuncturist. This woman cured me after only one visit. I’ll never forget that day, three years ago, when she needled my body and left the room. I felt strong movements of energy throughout my body and was so tired after that initial treatment that I went to bed as soon as I got home. I never took Requip again.

For quite a while, I saw the acupuncturist every month. Then over time I visited less frequently, though I still  go back for a “tune up” several times a year. I am extremely grateful that I no longer need to take Requip.

Acupuncture for RLS:

A. Many people would prefer to use some method other than medication to control their restless legs syndrome. A review of non-pharmacological interventions found that acupuncture reduces RLS symptoms (Harrison et al, Disability and Rehabilitation, March 21, 2018).  Your results are surprising in that you got such long-lasting relief from acupuncture to calm your restless legs. Other people may find that they need to continue with acupuncture to maintain freedom from RLS symptoms.

Other Non-Drug Approaches for RLS:

Scientists have focused most intensely on studying the drugs doctors prescribe for RLS. However, there are a few non-drug approaches that might be able to calm your restless legs. Restless legs syndrome, known in medicalese as Willis-Ekbom disease or simply Ekbom disease after the Swedish doctor who first described it, may respond to exercise, massage, infrared-light therapy or pneumatic compression devices that squeeze the legs to maintain good circulation (Mitchell, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, May 6, 2011).


One randomized study found that massage, specifically massage with lavender oil, could ease RLS symptoms in people on hemodialysis (Hashemi et al, Nursing and Midwifery Studies, Dec. 2015). People with kidney disease often suffer from restless legs syndrome.


Placing the legs on a vibrating pad (Relaxis) for a 35-minute therapy cycle appears to be as effective as the drugs FDA has approved for treating RLS (Mitchell, Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, Dec. 3, 2015). Users have not reported adverse effects from using the pad, other than to the wallet–it can cost around $1,000. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Harrison EG et al, "Non-pharmacological interventions for restless legs syndrome: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials." Disability and Rehabilitation, March 21, 2018. DOI: 10.17795/nmsjournal29617
  • Mitchell UH, "Nondrug-related aspect of treating Ekbom disease, formerly known as restless legs syndrome." Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, May 6, 2011. DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S19177
  • Hashemi SH et al, "The effect of massage with lavender oil on restless leg syndrome in hemodialysis patients: A randomized controlled trial." Nursing and Midwifery Studies, Dec. 2015. DOI: 10.17795/nmsjournal29617
  • Mitchell UH, "Medical devices for restless legs syndrome–clinical utility of the Relaxis pad." Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, Dec. 3, 2015. DOI: 10.2147/TCRM.S87208
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Well dr decided I didn’t need my Xanax took me off cold turkey plus I had started requip but I started losing my hair so I stopped it myself after one month! I have neuropathy n rls plus fibromyalgia! Right now thinking marijuana can help although cbd hasn’t helped !

I have had an extreme case of RLS for several years. I have tried increasing calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D (injested and topically), leg and full-body massages, diet changes, exercising and increasing water intake. Nothing helped. My symptoms increased after a right hip replacement 10 years ago. I tried Requip and Mirapex then, and have again recently, but the side effects are difficult to adjust to and make normal life activities dangerous to perform. Plus, they do not relieve my symptoms enough to sleep more than a few hours. Out of desperation, I recently tried CBD oils and medical marijuana. The CBD oil helped very little, but the marijuana worked amazingly well within a few minutes, and I slept soundly for the first time in years! I will definitely be searching for a holistic doctor to pursue a medical marijuana prescription.
For those suffering from RLS, I can say I have found that turning over to lie on my stomach, and using a thinner pillow (to relieve back strain) helps relieve the RLS sensations enough to fall asleep. Hot soaking baths with epsom salts before bed, eliminating wine intake before bed, and exercising earlier in the day have been helpful at times as well.
I’m excited to find this site, and hope that you all find relief from this terrible disorder. Thank You to the Graedons, for your time, research and caring efforts to help others find better health.

Hi Jane
I will try it. Diet and cut sugar, which is my problem. Many thanks, and have a great day.

I have battled restless leg syndrome for 20 years. I tried Acupuncture treatments , hypnotherapy, massage therapy, 15 different prescription drugs from 6 different doctors, all with limited results. A doctor at a major clinic finally prescribed an opioid that has been almost a miracle. Express scripts won’t cover the prescription because the FDA doesn’t approve it for RLS. I appreciate this email from you because I’ve learned so much.

If you are interested in non drug approaches to restless leg syndrome I suggest you try orgasm.
No partner, then masturbate.
Try it you may like it.

I have lifelong mild-to-moderate RLS. When I had a right hip replacement 1 year ago, I was required to use compression cuffs as part of anti-clot measures. I wish I could say it helped my RLS, but alas — nada. I do believe it can help some with RLS, and as such, is worth a try.

I find if I eat less sugar and sodium my legs are better,a plain diet is best.

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