What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Q: What is causing this creepy crawly sensation in my legs? It’s difficult for me to sleep or to sit for long periods.

A: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition in which your legs feel very uncomfortable when you are sitting or lying down. It can make sleeping and traveling difficult and uncomfortable. It can happen at any age but often worsens with age and becomes a problem for older adults. Sometimes RLS is related to other conditions, such as pregnancy, iron-deficiency anemia or kidney failure. Other cases of RLS have no known cause. It may be hereditary.

It may cause a “creepy-crawly” feeling in the legs that makes you want to move around. You may also experience achy, tingly or burning sensations in your legs. Moving your legs makes the feeling go away for a few minutes, but it comes back after you sit or lie still again. Your legs may also twitch when you try and sleep.

Treatment for RLS includes medicines like those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, which can help reduce tremors and twitching in the legs. If your iron levels are low, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. Sleep aids, muscle relaxants and pain medicines may also relieve symptoms. For many cases of RLS, a combination of medicines is usually needed to best treat the condition.

Lifestyle changes are also important in treating RLS.

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help reduce twitching and restless sensations.
  • Cut back on alcohol, caffeine and tobacco.
  • Take a hot bath and massage your legs before bedtime to help you relax.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, before bed.
  • Apply warm or cool packs, which can help relieve sensations in your legs.
  • Distract your mind by reading or doing a crossword puzzle while you wait for sleep to come.
  • Moderate exercise may help, but don't overdo it
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Also try to get a sufficient amount of sleep each night.

By Rescha Bloedow, NP, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.