Woman practicing yoga for restless leg syndrome in Janu Sirsasana

Pilot Study Indicates that Yoga Might Ease the Discomfort of Restless Legs Syndrome

Do you suffer from restless legs syndrome or RLS? RLS is an extremely uncomfortable sleep disorder characterized by irritating sensations in the legs that cause an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms and severity vary widely ranging from uncomfortable to intolerable. Discomfort tends to worsen when lying or sitting causing considerable sleep disturbance.

Restless leg syndrome affects up to 10% of the population in the United States, and is more common in women and those who are middle-aged or older. RLS is often misdiagnosed because there is no known cause and symptoms can differ greatly. While most cases of restless leg syndrome are treated with drug therapy, more Americans are seeking complementary forms of treatment, including yoga.

Studies on Yoga to Alleviate the Symptoms of RLS

A pilot study published in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Alternative Medicine examined whether participation in an 8-week, gentle Iyengar yoga program would be associated with a reduction of RLS symptom severity, sleep quality, as well as mood and perceived stress. Thirteen women aged 32-66 years with restless leg syndrome who did not have diabetes, sleep apnea, or other serious, chronic conditions were recruited to participate.

Ten women completed the study. Participants attended an average of 13.4 classes out of the 16 offered, and completed approximately 4 of the 5 assigned homework sessions per week. Comparisons of symptoms from the beginning to the end of the 8-week study showed considerable improvement in RLS-related symptom severity with all but 1 participant rating her symptoms in the minimal to mild range. Improvements in sleep and mood, and reductions in perceived stress were also noted.

Some evidence of a dose-response relationship was found, with higher ratings of symptom relief being related to more minutes and greater frequency of daily practice.

These findings build on a previous pilot study of post-menopausal women with RLS. Yoga group participants were found to experience significant reductions in insomnia and improved quality of sleep, compared to a no-yoga control group. There were also notable reductions in blood pressure in the yoga group. Participants’ improvements in both sleep quality and moods were comparable to results reported with new drug trials for individuals with RLS.

These initial studies are encouraging as they suggest that consistent, gentle yoga practice may help to reduce symptoms and improve sleep quality, mood and perceived stress for women with RLS. Anyone interested in participating in yoga classes should consult with their physical to determine which types of yoga practice are best for them.


Efficacy of an Eight-Week Yoga Intervention on Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): A Pilot Study
Kim E. Innes, Terry Kit Selfe, Parul Agarwal, Kimberly Williams, and Kathryn L. Flack. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. June 2013, 19(6): 527-535. doi:10.1089/acm.2012.0330.
Kim E. Innes, MSPH, PhD
Department of Epidemiology
West Virginia University School of Public Health
P.O. Box 9190
Morgantown, WV 26506