Restless leg syndrome is a condition that occurs in a person’s limbs, most frequently in the legs, that gives many sensations that contribute to the need – or the perceived need – to move your legs. The sensations are varied, running from a tingling sensation to a slight aching sensation that seems to demand leg movement, which, in fact, gives relief to the uncomfortable feeling in your legs – mostly in your joints. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), and the condition can be debilitating. This is because, while the condition flares up mostly in the evening or night, it can interfere with sleep and, thus, create problems with concentration and fatigue. It can interfere with daily activities.
It can be mediated, if not cured, by making changes in your lifestyle or by the use of pharmaceutical medication. Although the underlying cause is not understood, it is thought that RLS/WED is connected to an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain. This is because dopamine has a role to play in motor function.
While the restless sensation is the primary symptom for RLS/WED, finding relief from the discomfort by moving is also a marker of the condition. If movement does not alleviate the restless feelings at all, then you may have some other condition causing the joints to feel uncomfortable.
Further, the condition tends to worsen when you are at rest, which often means it occurs routinely at night. Some people have trouble falling asleep, as that is the time you rest your legs, and they could start twitching or kicking out indiscriminately, to calm down the uncomfortable feelings.
The sensations that trigger the twitching are hard to define. If you imagine the drawstring of a bow (in archery) becoming tenser as the string is drawn back, this is partly RLS/WED feels – like your leg is poised to kick out and feels relief in the release. The sensation is otherwise described as itching, aching, an electric kind of numbness, light throbbing, and awkward or creepy.
There are risk factors involved with RLS/WED. These include a potential iron deficiency, kidney failure, diabetes, certain brain injuries or spinal cord conditions and peripheral neuropathy, which is slight to severe nerve damage in the hands and feet, which can accompany diabetes and/or alcoholism.
Tellingly, the clinical definition of RLS/WED comes from the International Classification of Sleep Disorders and the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group. Categorically, RLS/WED has such an association with times of rest that it is of special concern as a sleep disorder.
The diagnosis comes from the following symptoms:
The need to twitch, move, kick out your legs, prompted by an almost indiscernible feeling of discomfort, like a vague tension in your joints. The sensation can be very uncomfortable, but jerking the leg relieves the sensation. As such, the remedy and the symptom are the same: The symptom is twitching legs, and relief from the symptom of discomfort is to twitch your legs or kick them out.
Symptoms generally worsen in the evening. In addition, the symptoms cannot be explained by another underlying cause, such as some type of palsy or muscle disorder.
Ask your physician about medications designed to restore dopamine levels or balance in the brain. Various pain medications can be tried if the symptoms are severe. Muscle relaxants and sleep medications are also prescribed for this.
There are various try-at-home options, including taking a warm bath, going for a walk, applying cold or warm compacts, avoiding caffeine, or getting a massage.
When to call a doctor?
Call a physician if any uncomfortable or unexplained symptoms persist or become acute. In Tempe, call FXRX Orthopaedics & Bracing at 480-449-3979.