Most of us had those days when we’re anxious about something, perhaps waiting for a late train or stressing in an exam room, when we have restless legs that shake uncontrollably, as though releasing all our body’s pent-up energy. This could be, in fact, a disorder of the nervous system called restless legs syndrome that affects 1 in 10 people at some point in their lives. Symptoms vary from mild to intolerable, and in some cases the involuntary leg shaking is so bad that it can disrupt an individual´s daily life.
What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?
People describe restless legs syndrome symptoms as an unpleasant feeling accompanied by the uncontrollable urge to move their legs. They may experience a tingling or burning sensation, or even painful cramps which can also affect the arms, chest, and the face. Although moving one’s legs often calms symptoms, just over 50% of people with restless legs syndrome also have back pain from time to time. Whilst some people experience symptoms on a daily basis, others only have them occasionally.
It is common for people to have trouble sitting down for prolonged periods of time, for example on a long bus journey or working at a computer.
Generally restless legs syndrome symptoms are more pronounced in the evening or during the night. A large majority of people with the condition also have periodic limb movements in sleep, when their leg jerks uncontrollably for a short while whilst they sleep.
What causes restless legs syndrome?
The causes of restless legs syndrome are often unclear. In some cases it may be genetic, with the condition running in families.
It has been suggested that dopamine plays a role. The less dopamine in a person’s system, the more likely they are to have restless legs.
Restless legs syndrome may also be the result of an underlying health issue such as iron deficiency, arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease. If you find your legs twitching nervously, and are worried it may be a symptom of a more serious condition, get in touch with a specialist.
What is the best treatment for restless legs?
In most cases, if an individual is only experiencing mild restless legs syndrome with no underlying problems, the condition can be treated by making some simple lifestyle changes. These include:
- Regular exercise
- Don’t take medicines that might make your legs restless
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t take stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol in the evening
If you have another condition, such as anaemia, that is causing you to have restless legs, by treating the anaemia you will in turn treat your restless legs syndrome.