Restless Leg Syndrome: Tips for Managing Those Fidgety Legs

It’s not uncommon for people to joke about having “restless legs” if they’ve been sedentary for too long, but the actual condition of restless leg syndrome is no joking matter. In fact, restless leg syndrome is a neurological movement disorder that affects between 10 and 20 percent of the United States population.

Characterized by throbbing, pulling, creeping or unpleasant sensations in the legs, people who suffer from restless leg syndrome generally only feel relief from their symptoms when moving their legs. Since symptoms primarily occur or increase in severity at night when the body is at rest, this can lead to problematic sleep deprivation.

“Most of the people who suffer from this syndrome have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep,” says Kendal at Lexington’s Director of Rehab, Dr. Savleen Juneja. “Left untreated, the condition can cause exhaustion and daytime fatigue.

While restless leg syndrome affects both men and women, men are twice as likely to suffer from this condition, which can be classified as a medically diagnosed sleep disorder when severe. But what causes restless leg syndrome? How do you know if you have it? And what treatments are available?

The Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

“In most cases, the causes of restless leg syndrome are unknown,” Savleen says, but explains there are some indicators that may be contributing factors. Some studies have shown a genetic component — most often linked in cases where symptoms begin before age 40. Restless leg syndrome has also been linked to low levels of iron in the brain, as well as chronic illnesses like kidney failure, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease.

Additionally, there are certain medications that can trigger and worsen symptoms, like anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants and antihistamines. Certain lifestyle choices can also bring on symptoms, like overusing alcohol or chronic sleep deprivation. For some people, this can create a viscous cycle: they’re sleep deprived from their symptoms, but the symptoms worsen with sleep deprivation.

Diagnosing Restless Leg Syndrome

“There is no specific test for restless leg syndrome, but there are four basic criteria use to make a diagnosis,” Savleen explains.

  1. Symptoms that are worse at night, then absent or negligible in the morning
  2. Strong and overwhelming urge to move the limb
  3. Sensory symptoms that are triggered by rest, relaxation or sleep
  4. Sensory symptoms that are relieved by movements

If you identify with at least two of the above criteria, it might be time to talk to your doctor.

How to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome

While there is no known cure for restless leg syndrome, the symptoms can be treated and improved with lifestyle changes, such as decreasing intake of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, and a designated plan of care.

“Physical and occupational therapists can help manage the symptoms of restless leg syndrome by creating a plan of care that includes exercises, stretches, massages, and hot and cold packs,” Savleen says. “In general, it is a lifelong condition for which there is no cure, but we can work on relieving those symptoms to control the disorder.”

In addition to helping you develop a plan of care, Kendal therapists can also help you log a symptom and activity diary to help aid your doctors in making a diagnosis. Once a formal diagnosis is made, you and your doctor can also discuss potential medications to help with symptoms.

The bottom line: if you’re experiencing creeping, tingling, throbbing unpleasant sensations in your legs, talk to your doctor and take action. There are options for relief so you can rest easy and get a better night’s sleep.


Interested in learning more about rehabilitation services at Kendal at Lexington? Call 888-467-6115 for more information.