restless leg syndrome (rls)

--> restless leg syndrome


This condition, otherwise known as RLS is a disorder of the central nervous system that produces uncomfortable sensations in the legs, (sometimes in the arms) that is most evident in the evening or during the night.

RLS should not be confused with night cramps.

Approximately one in every ten adults has some form of RLS many of whom find it to be a manageable condition. In these people it does not necessarily need to be treated. However, some patients have an associated finding where their legs move spontaneously while they are asleep and end up kicking their bed partner so they end of waking themselves up and their partner.

Some conditions such as stress, iron deficiency, kidney disease and pregnancy may bring about the symptoms of RLS. In cases where the underlying problem is alleviated, RLS will also usually disappear. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can make the symptoms worse.

This syndrome is also known to run in families suggesting that genetics may play a role.

theory behind Restless Leg Syndrome

Although the origins of RLS are not clearly understood there is one emerging theory that there is a lot of motor learning that gets “replayed" while asleep. This might suggest why RLS is more prone in the legs than arms. In the course of the day most people do more work with their legs than their arms so at night this voluntary muscle work is “replayed".

So do you have RLS? According to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation you do if any of scenarios below fit you:

  • Your RLS symptoms start or become worse when you are resting. The longer you are resting, the greater the chance the symptoms will occur and the more severe they are likely to be.
  • Your RLS symptoms get better when you move your legs. The relief can be complete or only partial but generally starts very soon after starting an activity. Relief persists as long as the motor activity continues.
  • Your RLS symptoms are worse in the evening especially when you are lying down. Activities that bother you at night do not bother you during the day.

symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

People who have RLS describe the sensations as pulling, drawing, tingling, pins and needles, prickly and many times painful sensation in their legs. These feelings are accompanied by a tremendous urge to move their legs and feet, which gives them temporary relief. RLS is considered a lifelong condition.


Treatment consists of massaging the legs and applying cold compresses. If there is an underlying medical problem such as iron deficiency, treatment needs to be initiated.

Talk to your doctor about trying medication. Some of the Parkinson’s medications have proven to be helpful. Specifically, ropinirole (Requip) reduced involuntary leg movements from 49 per hour to 12 per hour in people with RLS in a study performed at John Hopkins University. Mirapex (Pramipexole) is another Parkinson drug that may be used.

Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant, calming spasms that either cause or aggravate restless leg syndrome. In a German study magnesium was administered to 10 RLS patients at bedtime and then their sleep was monitored. Prior to the study, patients were being disturbed by RLS anywhere from 7-17 times per hour. At the end of six weeks the patient's sleep efficiency, the time spent sleeping, rose from 75% to 85%.

Anecdotically, I have read in a number of places about the use of regular bar soap, placed by the legs during sleep, relieving the symptoms of RLS. It is best to use an open bar of Ivory soap and to avoid scented soaps.

The biggest problem with RLS is the inability of people to get a good nights sleep which then impacts negatively on their daily life.

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