“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
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