A foot wrap designed to put pressure on muscles could be an effective treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a pilot study has found.
The condition of the nervous system causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs and can sometimes lead to insomnia, anxiety and depression.
People with severe symptoms are currently prescribed medication to help regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in the body, but according to researchers, wrapping feet in a new device could be more effective.
The wrap, created by scientists at Lake Erie Research Institute in Pennsylvania, puts adjustable targeted pressure on two muscles in the foot known to relax symptoms of RLS, the abductor hallucis and the flexor hallucis brevis.
"By putting pressure on specific muscles in the feet, we are able to create a response in the brain that relaxes the muscles activated during RLS," said lead author Phyllis Kuhn.
"It's a near perfect example of the body regulating itself without drugs, many of which have the potential for significant adverse side effects."
To test the device, the researchers recruited 30 otherwise healthy adults with moderate to severe RLS.
Patients reported a 90% improvement in their symptoms after using the foot wrap, compared to a 63% improvement after receiving ropinirole, the current standard dopamine drug for RLS.
The researchers suggested that the pressure produced by the device may also stimulate a dopamine release, similar to massage therapy or acupressure.
Patients using the device also reported an 82% decrease in sleep loss.
Seven of the participants reported temporary adverse effects after foot wrapping, including pain (one), pins and needles sensation (two), irritability (three), spasm (one) and warm feet (one).
But the researchers noted that possible side effects of RLS drugs include dizziness, nausea, vomiting and the added risk of addiction.
"Restless legs syndrome really erodes quality of life because it causes extreme fatigue for many patients," osteopathic physician Rob Danoff commented on the findings.
"These results show promise in otherwise healthy individuals for a non-pharmaceutical option that appears to have rather minor, temporary adverse effects for some users."
The pilot study is published in full in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.