Friday Weird Science: Masturbation and Restless Leg Syndrome

Apr 22 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

You know, I tried SO hard to come up with a good rhyme..."When your legs give a yank, turn to your spank bank?" "Are your legs restless? Masturbate to redress!" "If your legs still shake, yank or your trouser snake?"

I got nothin'. Rhyming has failed me here. But the weird science, it NEVER fails me!

Ah, masturbation. Many people talk about various things being a miracle cure or a miracle drug (like, I dunno, things like olive oil, people were all excited about resveratrol in red wine for a while, you know…). But nothing seems to titillate as a miracle cure quite like orgasm. It reduces stress, increases feelings of wellbeing, sometimes cures headaches (though it sometimes causes them), and might even help your nasal congestion. And now? Restless leg syndrome!

Marin et al. "Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome?" Sleep Medicine Letter to the Editor, 2011

One important thing to keep in mind: CASE STUDY. This is a case study. Not a large study correlating sexual activity with relief of restless leg (though if someone wants to DO that study, send Sci a copy!! I'd totally blog that).

Restless leg syndrome (also known as Wittmaack–Ekbom syndrome) is a neurological condition that is characterized by an urgent feeling to move your legs. It's kind of like a constant inability to get comfortable, or a tickle that just won't stop. The symptoms aren't so bad when you're awake and moving around, but when you try to RELAX, say, read a book or go to sleep, the symptoms start and get more intense. This causes some major disruptions in sleep patterns, and people with Restless Leg Syndrome suffer from far less and worse sleep (very little deep sleep, etc) compared to people who don't have it. Even when they DO sleep, they suffer constant limb jerking. There are various drugs for treatment, usually targeting the dopamine or opioid systems. But all of the treatments are not really satisfactory, many have rebound effects, and dopamine and opioid systems are not things to mess with.

But one guy, a 41 year old man with a history of severe Restless Leg, found his own solution. He was on various drugs for Restless Leg, but every time he went off of them, of course the symptoms got worse. But he did find that one thing helped. Sex! He found that he got complete relief from symptoms of restless leg symptoms, and got some really great sleep (who doesn't, right?). Of course the doctors continued to prescribe him medication, but hey, his method worked just fine!!

But the question becomes, what causes this change in symptoms? Well the authors of this case study hypothesize dopamine and endogenous opioids themselves might take care of things. When you orgasm, you get brain release of dopamine (woo!!) and endogenous opioids, and it's possible that this could be enough to relieve symptoms (at least enough to help you sleep at night).

Of course, this is all speculation (it's only one guy, after all), and this remains to be tested. Even if the masturbation (or sex) DOES work, whether or not it's the dopamine or the opioids that are helping remains to be seen. But in the meantime, though no one would want someone with Restless Leg to go off their medication...it might be worth trying the sex and seeing what happens. As an additional...therapy. I mean, what can it hurt?

Marin LF, Felicio AC, & Prado GF (2011). Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome? Sleep medicine, 12 (4) PMID: 21377419

22 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Ahhahahaha. I don't think I've got restless leg, though there are times I drink coffee and its actively uncomfortable to sit still, and times with or without coffee that I leg-jerk in sleep (not every night or anything). What's the threshold for diagnosis, anyway? Is it possible mild cases are more common or is there some obvious distinction that makes something RLS?

    And how can I use this as an excuse for more... therapy?

    • scicurious says:

      Yes, there's a RLS spectrum that is apparently pretty wide, but I think the criteria for diagnosis is mostly the crawling and persistently uncomfortable feeling in the legs. Periodic limb movement in sleep (the leg jerking) is a part of RLS in many cases, but can also be independent.

      And do you NEED an excuse for more...therapy?

  • Liz says:

    Delurking to say that I have been diagnosed with mild RLS, however they didn't want to medicate me for the reasons you mentioned above.

    "It's kind of like a constant inability to get comfortable..."

    Perfect.

    And yes, sex definitely works for me!

  • Neuroskeptic says:

    Restless legs? Grab your peg! - hmmm, maybe.

  • Adrian Blake says:

    If your leg won't stay calm, give it the palm. If leg jerkiness lingers, administer fingers. If leg shaking persists, some nookie enlist. if leg shakes won't go, use fellatio. If your leg shake lingers, apply cunnilingus. Only one thing you're shakin' should keep you awaken.

    Is there a job I could apply for that comprises of this lol

  • maggie says:

    I have mild RLS (mild in the sense that I am not always symptomatic and can go weeks without an incident, or have weeks of constant torture), but have refused medication. The er...treatment outlined here works inconsistently in my case. I've found the effect to be very short lived, so that symptoms will often return within an hour or so. This means that I still get kicked out of bed when I start flailing at 2am.

  • Dan says:

    Rub out your RLS symtoms.
    Give your legs a rest, massage your third one.

  • Kathy says:

    If you want the best information on the criteria for diagnosing RLS, go to http://www.rls.org. At least with the silliness of this case study, you have promoted some good information about Restless Legs Syndrome. I have had it most of my adult life and believe me, if this worked for all (or even a large part) of the RLS population it would be wonderful!

  • Allie says:

    Adrian, thanks for the laugh.

  • Anonymous! says:

    I had restless leg symptoms when I was pregnant, and masturbating was the only thing that worked! Nice that science is catching up with my experience. Is there any research on RLS associated with pregnancy?

    • Kellie says:

      I too discovered long before the study came out that masturbation was a natural fix to relax my legs and be able to sleep. Glad science is catching up with us....and a prescription that I don't mind taking!

  • Matt says:

    Just can't seem to get cozy ... then you better dial up rosie!

  • John says:

    I got RLS and a pretty bad case of it, kinda fun to imagine occupying the rest room at the office every hour or so for "medical reasons"....haha
    Until spanking the monkey becomes a recognized treatment method for RLS I will stick to my VB12M

    Good post though

  • AnonymousCoward says:

    I don't have restless leg syndrome, but this therapy sure works wonders for my restless arm

  • julie.crow says:

    Fantastic to read I was on the right track.I discovered 5 years ago that self pleasuring(not havng a partner to honour my sex) was the only thing that provided relief from my restless legs.However I, forwhatever reason decided that self pleasuring every night was not an option(besides once I start 1 orgasm is not enough so I was getting very exhausted!!!)and I have been on powerful drugs to cope with the condition.Now I will certainly experiment with this very pleasurable nightly ritual in the full knowledge of the extra added bonus I will achieve.And the search goes on to find my playmate who can replace my medication...Hmm interesting RSVP profile???Thank you.. Julie Perhaps 1 orgasm may be enough so I will experiment!!

  • Sam Privic says:

    there is a spray that will help you with your restless leg syndrome

  • Anon Girl says:

    I've been researching home remedies for RLS and masturbation (or having an orgasm through other means) was listed. Some women's bodies tense up and all of the muscles contract, including leg muscles, which could explain why this works well---in the sense for women, of course. Just a thought.

  • Anon guy says:

    It works for men too. I have occasional Restless Leg, and I can attest that masturbating DOES kill the symptoms right away and completely, allowing me to sleep all night - as long as I have an orgasm after the symptoms kick in, not before. The word should be spread, since I know there are people who live in torment because they have RLS every night. This is a condition that might seem funny to the author of the post, but there is nothing funny about being incapable of sleeping when you are the most in need of it - RLS tends to attack me precisely in the nights when I am most exhausted.

    • scicurious says:

      Actually, I don't find Restless Leg at all funny, and I know several people who struggle with it. I don't think I ever called Restless leg funny in the post. Now the CURE. That's funny. Because it's not the only thing that people say will cure with masturbation. Masturbation seems to cure everything these.

  • Terry says:

    Many RLS sufferers know this relief method and rely on it. Aside from the dopamine rush (which also explains why being distracted with exciting or at least interesting news or information helps), the contraction and clenching of the legs and particularly the buttocks is what works. The resulting spasms in the legs correlate directly to the points where RLS hits the worst. And, yes, the effect is transitory, and if sleep doesn't immediately follow, symptoms will return within 30 minutes or so.

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