Everyone gets muscle twitches from time to time, and lots of folks feel a little jittery if they drink too much coffee or don’t get enough exercise. But other people have a frustrating and chronic condition called restless leg syndrome, which makes their legs feel incessantly restless.

For these folks, dealing with the constant urge to move their legs or exercise is not just annoying: it can even be debilitating. Let’s take a closer look at RLS, where it comes from, and how you can treat it now.

Restless Leg Syndrome Explained

Restless leg syndrome or RLS is a chronic condition characterized by an unavoidable and uncontrollable urge to move one’s legs. When your legs are still, they may feel comfortable or “itchy” beneath the skin.

For most people, RLS is most frequent in the evening or during the night, particularly once they are sitting down or lying down. While RLS can be at least partially alleviated by moving around and/or using your legs to exercise, the condition can become worse with age, eventually getting so severe that it interrupts daily activities or disrupts sleep.

Causes of RLS

At the moment, medical professionals aren’t fully sure why RLS develops in some people and why it doesn’t in others. Furthermore, they are not sure of the root cause of RLS. But researchers have identified several risk factors that could make you more or less likely to experience intense RLS as you get older, including:

  • Genetic history of restless leg syndrome.
  • Being pregnant. Pregnancy results in a lot of hormonal changes that can start or worsen RLS.
  • Iron deficiencies, which can either cause or worsen RLS symptoms.
  • Muscle movement issues.

Because the root cause of RLS has not been identified, doctors can only diagnose restless leg syndrome by eliminating other conditions and looking for a few characteristic factors, such as an overwhelming need to move the legs or an urge to move the legs that gets worse when one is resting or inactive.

RLS Symptoms

Of course, one of the biggest symptoms of RLS is an urge to regularly move your legs, especially when you are sitting or lying down. However, aside from leg twitchiness, people also experience other symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

  • Relief when the legs move around, such as by walking, stretching, or using exercise equipment to perform leg exercises.
  • Worsening RLS symptoms in the evening.
  • Leg twitching, especially when you are asleep.
  • Strange sensations on and within the limbs, often described as throbbing, itching, crawling, pulling, or aching.
  • Sleep disturbances, daytime sleepiness.
  • Leg cramps.

However, note that RLS is not usually accompanied by symptoms like leg numbness or muscle cramps, which may be indicative of different conditions. Furthermore, RLS symptom severity can vary dramatically from person to person. In some individuals, RLS will flare up periodically, then fade away for a time before returning.

How to Remedy Restless Leg Syndrome

In general, it’s not necessary to see a doctor for restless leg syndrome unless the condition is affecting your sleep quality and therefore causing ancillary side effects in your day-to-day life. There are lots of natural or home-focused remedies you can pursue in the meantime to alleviate or even treat RLS effectively. Here are some examples.

Make Lifestyle Changes

First and foremost, individuals with restless leg syndrome can make lifestyle changes. Specifically, it’s a good idea to get more leg exercise in your daily routine. Exercising your leg muscles more regularly can help to alleviate RLS and even prevent RLS from affecting your evening relaxation by tiring out the muscles and making any symptoms much more tolerable.

However, it’s also a good idea to eliminate potentially toxic compounds that are part of your diet, including alcohol and tobacco. Both of these toxins can have wide-ranging and progressive effects on your body and its various symptoms. While no direct link between alcohol and tobacco consumption and RLS has been identified, eliminating these things from your diet certainly can’t hurt.  

You should also aim to get regular sleep as often as possible, even if RLS makes it difficult from time to time. Sleep can affect the functionality and order of the nervous system, which may also affect whether you are susceptible to RLS symptoms over time. Children with RLS should avoid caffeine and develop good bedtime habits.

Prioritize Certain Vitamins/Minerals

As mentioned above, one of the primary predictors for restless leg syndrome is an iron deficiency. Particularly in women, iron deficiencies can lead to a number of side effects or negative conditions, including restless leg syndrome.

To that end, you should prioritize certain vitamins and minerals either by taking a multivitamin supplement or by altering your diet. Iron supplements are an excellent idea. However, for some people, iron supplementation does not improve a person’s iron levels. Nevertheless, many women’s multivitamins already include enough iron to reach your daily recommended amount.

Other vitamins and minerals, like magnesium and vitamin B, can also be effective supplements for treating muscle quirks like RLS and for ensuring that your body works properly.

Use Heating/Cold Packs

Lastly, consider making your own heating and cold packs at home and applying those to your legs in the evening. Hot packs can easily be purchased at the store or made by boiling water and putting water in a waterproof bag. Then cover the bag with a cloth and put it on your leg.

Ice packs work the same way, or you can simply wrap ice cubes in a cloth and apply those to your affected muscles. The heat and cold can soothe muscle irritation and irritations and potentially even numb your nerves, which may lessen or eliminate RLS symptoms. 

Medication & Their Effects

Some long-term medical conditions that include RLS symptoms are iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy. Medications can also contribute to the development of restless leg syndrome. Such known medications include antidepressants, antihistamines, and anti-nausea medications.

The FDA has approved pramipexole ( Mirapex ), ropinirole ( Requip ), Levodopa Benzodiazepines, pregabalin and gabapentin ( gabapentin enacarbil) for those with a diagnosis of RLS that ranges from moderate to severe.

Opioids such as oxycodone are sometimes prescribed to treat those with more severe symptoms of RLS who do not respond well to other medications.

Summary

Ultimately, restless leg syndrome is something that those affected will likely need to deal with for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, there are ways to tackle this condition’s symptoms and ensure you can stay reasonably comfortable and get a good night’s rest without having to rely on potentially harmful medication.

Sources

Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Restless Legs Syndrome – Symptoms and Causes | Sleep Foundation

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) | The Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome.