Why won’t your legs stay still?
Over the past few nights, you notice that when you’re trying to sleep, it feels like your legs just want to move. If you do reposition them, they feel better for a little bit, but a short time later, you have the same feeling. Why is this happening? Is there anything you can do about it? Can you prevent it from occurring?
Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition that causes a person to have an uncontrollable urge to move their legs because of uncomfortable sensations in them. These sensations are often described as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, or electric. Some people have difficulty explaining the precise feeling. However, it’s never defined as muscle cramping or numbness. Regardless of how it’s defined, everyone with RLS says that they have the irrepressible need to move their legs.
The exact cause for this is unknown but thought to be related to an imbalance of dopamine in the brain. One of the many functions of this neurochemical is to regulate messages that control muscle movement. Symptoms usually start after you’ve been sitting or lying down for a period of time. Typically, this happens most often in the evening hours or when trying to go to sleep. While moving your legs can make the sensations go away, this is only temporary. Symptoms can fluctuate in severity and sometimes go away for a while before coming back.
Anyone can develop RLS, but it’s more common as you age and women are more likely than men to get it. It can be hereditary, especially if it starts before the age of 40. If your pregnant or experiencing hormonal changes, it can temporarily make your symptoms worse. If you have pregnancy-induced RLS, it should resolve after delivery. It’s not usually associated with any serious medical problems, but can accompany other conditions, like peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, kidney failure, and spinal cord ailments. Also, it’s associated with a disorder called periodic limb movement of sleep, which means that your legs twitch and kick throughout the night while your sleeping. The main complication of RLS is the disruption it causes to your sleep and the impact this can have on your ability to function throughout the day.
If your restless leg syndrome is caused by an underlying condition, you’ll need to correct it, which should hopefully relieve your symptoms. There are medications that can help lessen the severity of your RLS. The first group helps to increase the amount of dopamine in your brain and include ropinirole, rotigotine, and pramipexole. The second group affects the calcium channels in your body and are gabapentin, gabapentin enacarbil, and pregabalin. Sometimes, opioids, like tramadol, codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, are used, but due to their addictive qualities, they aren’t prescribed as frequently as they used to be. Some individuals may be tempted to take muscle relaxants or sleeping aids. While these might help you sleep better, they don’t get rid of the sensations in your legs and might cause daytime drowsiness. It’s important to note that sometimes the effectiveness of one medication can wear off if you’ve been taking it for a long time. If this happens, your doctor will need to prescribe something else. Also, most RLS medications can’t be taken during pregnancy, so talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant and having difficulty with RLS. If you have the disorder, you should avoid taking some antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-nausea, and cold/allergy medications because they can make your symptoms worse.
Besides medications, there are lifestyle changes that you can make that might alleviate your RLS symptoms. It can be helpful to soak in a warm bath or to massage your legs to relax the muscles. Performing gentle stretching exercises when you wake up and before you go to bed could reduce the distress. Another option is to use heat or cold packs (you can also try alternating the two) to aid in relieving the sensations. It’s vital to have good sleeping habits since fatigue can make symptoms worse. This means you should sleep in a quiet, cool environment and go to bed/get up at the same time each day. Also, you should try to get seven hours of sleep each night. It’s a good idea to keep a sleep diary so that you can keep track of any changes that your doctor should know about. An additional intervention that can potentially decrease the uncomfortable feelings in your legs is to get regular, moderate exercise. Just remember not to overdo it or workout too late in the day because this can intensify symptoms. Some individuals find avoiding caffeine to be beneficial. There’s a specially designed foot wrap that places pressure on the bottom of your feet that may assist in providing relief. It’s vital not to resist the urge to move; otherwise, your symptoms may get worse. This means you might need to get up and walk around if you have to sit for long periods, which is why telling your family, friends, and co-workers about your condition can help them to understand why you need to move frequently.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that you can do to prevent restless leg syndrome from occurring. If you have an underlying condition, seeking treatment for this can help prevent sensations from reappearing or getting worse. If you have RLS, following the lifestyle changes could reduce the chances of having intense symptoms.
Restless leg syndrome can be an uncomfortable disorder to have, but there are things that you can do to lessen the impact it has on your life. If you have any questions or concerns about restless leg syndrome, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation at https://www.rls.org/