Restless Legs Syndrome: Explained

Most of us have experienced difficulty falling asleep at one time or another. Stress, anxiety, or even excitement from the day just completed or the day to come can easily keep you awake. But what if you couldn’t get a good night’s sleep, or take a plane trip anywhere, or even watch a movie because you couldn’t stay still? For people suffering with Restless legs syndrome (RLS), moving is the only way to dull the pain.

Is Restless Legs Syndrome Real?

As odd a name as Restless legs syndrome is for a neurological issue, it’s quite real and definitely not a joke for those forced to deal with it. Imagine not being able to sit in a car for long trips or even make it through an extended meeting at work without your legs shaking and moving – sometimes uncontrollably. The resulting lack of restful sleep can lead to lethargic behavior during the day, and in severe enough cases may even trigger bouts of depression. It can truly become a quality of life-threatening disorder.

While researchers have not determined a specific cause for RLS, some believe it may have something to do with a lack of dopamine, the brain’s muscle-movement control chemical (not coincidentally, the term “kicking the habit” stems from the uncontrollable leg movements addicts make when withdrawing from opiates). Low iron levels and heredity may also play a role in its onset.

What Does RLS Feel Like?

RLS usually strikes when the legs are at ease, so sleeping and extended periods of sitting or non-activity can prompt an attack. Sufferers describe it as sensation within the legs ranging from a mild discomfort or itching to a throbbing ache or pulling, combined with an inescapable compulsion to move and relieve the pain. What results is twitching, bouncing, or shaking until the feeling finally passes.

Treating Restless Legs Syndrome

At the moment there is no cure for RLS, and treatments range from lifestyle and diet changes to increasing dopamine levels in the body with drug therapy. If you find yourself unable to sleep or sit for more than a short time due to leg discomfort, don’t write it off to stress or muscle cramps. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider for a more thorough evaluation and discover what you can do to find some relief.