“A stretch cured my rest­less legs!”

Lora Woods, 77, suf­fered from the pain and spasms of rest­less legs syn­drome for 50 years— un­til she stum­bled upon the simple move that stopped her symp­toms in their tracks

First For Women - - Contents -

The alarm clock wouldn’t be go­ing off for hours, but Lora had no choice but to get up. The in­vol­un­tary kick­ing from her rest­less legs syn­drome had awo­ken her, and she knew the spasms wouldn’t stop if she tried to just lie still. So she set her blan­kets out on the floor and at­tempted to get com­fort­able with her back on the ground and her legs propped up on the mat­tress. If she “tricked” her legs into think­ing she wasn’t go­ing to sleep, maybe she’d be able to drift off…

“For 50 years, my rest­less legs had been steal­ing my sleep and dis­rupt­ing my life,” shares Lora. “I was a nurse, and there were times when I’d worked a 12-hour shift af­ter strug­gling to sleep. I knew my brain wasn’t func­tion­ing op­ti­mally when I was run­ning on lit­tle-to-no sleep, which could be danger­ous when work­ing with mul­ti­ple pa­tients at once. I de­vel­oped strate­gies to help me deal, like keep­ing a small alarm clock in my pocket to re­mind me to check in on dif­fer­ent pa­tients at dif­fer­ent times or to change IV bags. With­out it, I might not have re­mem­bered. Thank­fully, I never dropped the ball, but there were days I came close.

No re­lief in sight

“I first ex­pe­ri­enced rest­less legs syn­drome as a teen, be­fore the con­di­tion even had a name. For years, I never had a full night of sleep. My mother and my sis­ter dealt with the same thing and they never found a solution, so I didn’t have much hope that I would ei­ther.

“It wasn’t just a night­time prob­lem. My leg would in­ad­ver­tently kick dur­ing the day too. It was em­bar­rass­ing— I’d of­ten have to crouch in a cor­ner with my arms wrapped around my calves un­til my legs relaxed.

“I also ex­pe­ri­enced pain—a burn­ing feel­ing that I couldn’t eas­ily ig­nore. It made it hard to do the things I wanted to in life, like travel. Be­ing on a plane was a form of tor­ture. I’d of­ten have to dis­obey the flight at­ten­dants when they told me to stay in my seat be­cause it was painful to try to sit still. I ended up not trav­el­ing much be­cause of it.

“I had been to see sev­eral doc­tors about my legs over the years, but there was never re­ally any med­i­cal help avail­able to me, so I did what I could on my own. I tried keep­ing track of my ac­tiv­ity lev­els and when the rest­less legs would act up to see if there was a pat­tern or a con­nec­tion, but there wasn’t. Noth­ing I tried was even close to help­ful. The spasms and pain con­tin­ued, no mat­ter what I did. Even­tu­ally, I gave up on find­ing a cure.

An ac­ci­den­tal fix

“One day, a friend talked me into ac­com­pa­ny­ing her to an ex­er­cise class taught by Katy Bow­man, who spe­cial­izes in biome­chan­ics, which is ba­si­cally the study of how peo­ple move. My friend en­joyed the class and thought it might help me with some hip and knee pain I had been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. I wasn’t even think­ing about my rest­less legs syn­drome when I agreed to go. I just thought I would see what the teacher had to say, take what I wanted from the class and be done with it.

“In the class, we did dif­fer­ent ex­er­cises and stretches to loosen our mus­cles and bring our move­ments into align­ment. One of those— the calf stretch—felt re­ally good. Katy had me use a half-cylin­der foam roller—which is ba­si­cally like a thick pool noo­dle sliced in half—to lift my toes off the ground and stretch the mus­cles in my legs. I liked that it was some­thing I could eas­ily as­sim­i­late into my life­style, so I started do­ing it at home.

“A week later, it dawned on me that I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced any in­vol­un­tary kick­ing in a few days. By week two, when the spasms still hadn’t re­turned, I got re­ally cu­ri­ous. I thought back to what I had been do­ing dif­fer­ently, and I re­al­ized the only thing that had changed was that I was do­ing the calf stretch pretty reg­u­larly.

“I started dili­gently do­ing the stretch ev­ery morn­ing. I kept the half cylin­der in my kitchen and stretched while I did a sudoku or read the pa­per. Some­times, if it was the hard­est sudoku of the week, I would stay in the stretch for al­most an hour, but I felt ad­e­quately stretched in just 10 min­utes. “The re­sult was mag­i­cal. I wasn’t sure how a simple stretch had cured my rest­less legs, but I was thrilled that there was ac­tu­ally an answer for me. All of a sud­den, the rest­less legs syn­drome was just not present. I can’t tell you how joy­ful that was! “I still do the calf stretch ev­ery day. I keep a half cylin­der in the car so I al­ways have one with me, or I’ll do calf stretches on a hill­side or a curb when I can. I haven’t had symp­toms of rest­less legs syn­drome in more than 10 years, and I’m plan­ning on sleep­ing soundly for the rest of my life!”

—As told to Alyssa Rosen­thal

“The re­sult was mag­i­cal. All of a sud­den, the rest­less legs syn­drome was just not present. I can’t tell you how joy­ful that was!”

Lora Woods, Ojai, CA

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