ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How To Cope With Restless Leg Syndrome

Updated on June 19, 2013

What is restless leg syndrome?

In 1945 a doctor of neurology by the name of Karl Ekbom diagnosed this condition and so it's sometimes referred to as 'Ekbom's Syndrome' or 'Willis-Ekbom' Disease. The 'Willis' named is the English doctor Sir Thomas Willis who, in 1672, first described the symptoms he had noted in a number of people - the symptoms in the 17th century are the same as they are today.

This is then a condition that is not new and at the present time affects millions of people worldwide. Let's first of all have a more in depth look at this condition and the symptoms.

The place where people work and the type of job they do can contribute greatly to restless leg syndrome.
The place where people work and the type of job they do can contribute greatly to restless leg syndrome. | Source

Common Symptoms of restless leg syndrome

There are many conditions people can develop much more painful and certainly more serious than restless leg syndrome (RLS). However, for anyone who has suffered from this - either temporarily or permanently - it can be one of the most stressful conditions you could ever have. In addition to all this, it can be painful for some people.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is often classed as a neurological disorder as well as a sleep disorder. There is also another connected condition that can occur with RLS, called 'periodic limb movement of sleep' (PLMs). In addition, although a separate ailment, people can develop 'periodic limb/leg movement disorder' (PLMD).

RLS is also known as a spectrum disorder since the feelings can vary between people from mild annoyance to extreme symptoms. It also increases in severity for some but goes into remission for others. According to medical research carried out by the National Center on Sleep Disorders, (NCSD) USA, women are more likely than men to suffer from RLS as are people who have northern European ancestry. As we can see, this is a complex subject and medical research is ongoing. To date, the exact cause is unknown and there is no cure.

Let's take a look at what people experience when they suffer from RLS. The main symptoms are:

  • Unpleasant feelings in the legs - or arms/torso - when resting. Moving the limbs stops the feelings for a few seconds.
  • You can also have jerking/spasms of the legs while sleeping. This experience wakens people, leading to disrupted sleep and fatigue in the morning. This is known as periodic limb/leg movements of sleep,(PLMs). Another condition called periodic limb movement disorder, (PLMD), is an entirely different complaint but often occurs along with RLS. However, RLS is sometimes experienced during the day, PLMD is only experienced during sleep.
  • RLS tends to be worse from evening onwards. However, as previously mentioned, there are people who suffer during the day as well. Symptoms can arise while sitting on a chair at home or at work, or perhaps sitting on a bus or even in a theatre.
  • RLS - in some cases - might be a symptom of another medical condition. Although the cause of RLS is not known, researchers have linked it to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, anaemia and kidney problems.

Feelings in the limbs have been described as:

  • creeping
  • prickly
  • burning
  • spasm/jumping
  • itchy
  • pins and needles
  • twitching
  • uncomfortable
  • very deep pain/aches

This is one of those conditions that may not sound much to people who don't experience it. However, RLS can in effect rule a person's life. Here are some experiences from people from the NHS (National Health Service) UK Website:

  • "...It's the afternoons and evenings! I cannot sit down in an armchair or sofa. The kitchen stool seems better (why?) I cannot go to see a film or play or just slob and watch the TV - I would love to. Sometimes I have to stop driving, because if it is really bad the leg jerk is uncontrollable. I work in an office and sometimes can't sit at my desk - I work standing up. As for the journey home on the train ..... It is worse if I feel closed in too. RLS rules my life and I am so sick of it."

  • "I have had RLS for about 6 years now and it is getting worse I am now taking ropinirole 3 mg just to get through the night. I take citalopram for stress which I'm told makes the RLS worse, but as yet no one has come up with an alternative. If anyone can help out there that would be great."

As we can see from just these two people, RLS is not a joke and it can have serious consequences for many. In particular the loss of sleep that leads to depression, stress, the inability to do everyday things and so on.

There are plenty of websites out there that give excellent support and advice for anyone who is suffering from RLS. Having said that, because as yet doctors don't know what causes the condition, the information given on one site might only help a few people. Others would have to try another site for something else that may help. However, because I've also had to put up with RLS - and still do on occasion - I thought a hub showing some of the things I've done to combat RLS might be helpful to others as well as showing the main changes that helped me. I'm not suggesting that everything I've done will give you the same results, but at least it will give you ideas to think about.

Restless leg syndrome poll

Have you ever experienced restless leg syndrome?

See results

Factors relating to restless leg syndrome

The following is a list of some of the common factors of RLS:

  • Although it does affect mainly adults, children are known to suffer from it.
  • The condition can be temporary - for example brought on by certain medication - when the medication is stopped then RLS symptoms disappear. Some anti-depressants such as prozac (fluoxetine), are particularly bad for causing RLS. In addition some medicines used for heartburn, such as Zantac, have also been known to trigger RLS.
  • The severity of the symptoms varies between each person as well as the actual sensations and levels of pain. In addition people can have RLS continually without any remission.
  • People who have a job where they are sitting for long periods of time have a higher rate of RLS. This is thought to be in part due to the circulation of blood being reduced for long periods of time.
  • There are numerous triggers for RLS - and we'll look at these a little later.
  • People have various methods and techniques that they use to combat the effects of RLS.
  • Pregnancy has been known to cause RLS but usually disappear after the baby is born.
  • Smoking, caffeine and alcohol are known to cause RLS symptoms in many sufferers, but not all.
  • Some medical conditions seem to show a higher rate of RLS among patients - such as anaemia, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and thyroid problems.
  • RLS increases with age.
  • Some women experiencing the menopause feel that their RLS symptoms are worse.
  • People with circulatory problems of the lower legs, for example varicose veins, can develop RLS.
  • Exercises that help to increase circulation to the bottom half of the body have been known to have a good effect in decreasing or stopping RLS symptoms, whether the person has circulatory problems or not.
  • People who are involved with some level of frequent exercise - even just walking - have a lower incident level of RLS.

So managing RLS is frequently a case of looking at your lifestyle and making changes in the areas that you feel are triggering RLS. To help with this a bit, I'll go onto to tell you how I've managed to reduce significantly the symptoms of RLS and this should give you some ideas about your own lifestyle.

Simple Exercise For Restless Leg Syndrome

Diet and restless leg syndrome

Minerals and vitamins - especially iron and vitamin B12 -  can help to reduce or even alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Minerals and vitamins - especially iron and vitamin B12 - can help to reduce or even alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. | Source

Coping with restless leg syndrome

There are a number of strategies that can be used to combat the symptoms of RLS. For most people it's a matter of reviewing your entire lifestyle and making adjustments until you find the combination that works best for you. It's important to realise that some people who have the severest form of RLS often end up depending on medications such as those used for Parkinson's Disease to control the symptoms. Therefore, it might be the case that due to various factors, lifestyle changes may not be enough for those who are badly affected. In addition, it's always best to consult your doctor before making any changes, especially if you are on any kind of medication or have an existing medical condition.

The main areas you need to look at for triggers to RLS are:

  • Diet and fluids taken
  • Activity levels
  • Medication
  • Type of job you do
  • Herbal or other supplements used
  • Type of chairs and mattress used
  • Current medical conditions such as - fibromyalgia, anaemia, arthritis (especially rheumatoid), thyroid problems, diabetes, kidney problems, peripheral neuropathy.

I occasionally still get restless leg syndrome, but attacks are now far and few between. If it does come on it's usually because of something I have done or something I've neglected to do. The main areas I realised I had to focus on were - my diet, the type of seating I used, sitting too long and medications.

As you can see, there is not usually one trigger for RLS, there can be a few. Although it can take time to eliminate the triggers it's well worth doing this. Find out what starts an attack, what doesn't and if there are things that help.

Lifestyle changes that helped me:

  • Diet - I'm mainly vegetarian so I need to watch my vitamin and mineral levels. This also means I can be prone to anaemia and this actually runs in my family. So iron supplements are a must, but I'll mention this later on. What I also have to watch for are meals that are high in salt - such as macaroni cheese. I now tend make meals with lower fat cheeses and very little salt. Another food that causes me major problems is savoury rice - the kind you buy in a pack and boil up. I'm sure this is also because of the salt content. I also avoid salted peanuts like the plaque as they bring on very bad bouts of RLS with me. So have a look at what you enjoy eating and see if RLS symptoms start because of some items of food that you eat. A general rule seems to be that the healthier your diet, the less likely RLS will be a problem.

  • I know that on most sites/forums for RLS its stated to avoid caffeine. To be honest I've never had a problem with caffeine, but I can say that de-caffinated coffee can cause me all sorts of problems with RLS, especially if I drink it at night. Whether this is due to the chemicals used in the de-caffinated coffee, I don't know. All I know is that it causes me problems.

  • Alcohol can cause bad RLS symptoms if I'm not careful. One or two glasses of good wine are fine and I also like to drink Bailey's Irish Cream - so far I haven't had any problems. However, when I was younger I did drink more spirits and lager, then RLS did affect me badly.

  • Anaemia - as I've already mentioned - is a problem for me. I am prone to low iron levels and I also have to watch my vitamin B levels as I don't absorb this too well, meaning that I have to ensure that I take extra vitamin B supplements, especially B12. Now iron and vitamin B supplements are very easy to come by. However, what I've discovered is that the tablet forms of iron and vitamin B just don't work for me at all. They certainly didn't reduce my RLS symptoms. What I take now is a good quality iron supplement in liquid form and they also have vitamin B12 as well as folic acid (B9) and the rest of the 'B' group added. I know they are much more expensive but the plus side has been drastic reduction in RLS and no iron side effects such as gastric problems.

  • People have also found that other supplements such as potassium and magnesium seem to help the symptoms of RLS. However always consult your doctor before taking these supplements as they can be toxic if taken in too large a quantity.

  • Type of seating. The type of seating and for how long people sit down can cause enormous problems with RLS. I tend to find the worse kind of seating for me is the common office type chairs - especially if you have to sit down for long periods. I used to end up standing for most of the time at work. However, I have found that RLS is improved by firstly taking short walking breaks after sitting. I would get up at least every 15 minutes and keep standing or have a walk for at least 5 minutes, longer if possible.I know that many people with RLS find that sitting in a cinema, going for a meal, sitting on a train/bus/plane will also trigger off symptoms. However, some exercises that you can try, have helped many people with this issue.

  • I've being doing RLS exercises for a while now - especially the ones that help with circulation. I have to say, that they have been a huge benefit to me. Other sufferers also state that they have found walking and/or running on the spot alleviates RLS symptoms.

  • If your legs, feet and buttocks get too hot after you've been sitting or walking, then find a way to cool them down. For example, a cold compress or cold water splashed or dabbed onto the feet and lower legs in particular. I've found that when my legs and feet get over heated this can trigger off an RLS episode. In addition to cooling your legs down, also do some of the exercises from the video that are for RLS. I have to say that I haven't had the problem of hot feet/legs for a long time. Since using a quality iron/vitamin B supplement, changing my diet and doing the exercises this problem seems to have gone.

I hope this article will be of some benefit to those of you who suffer from this distressing condition. However, a word of warning - there are many websites out there that claim to have a cure for RLS - this is false. To date, there is no cure. There are, as we have seen, lifestyle changes that can help to prevent or dampen down the symptoms of RLS, but there is no cure.

Lastly and as always, this article is for information only and is not a substitute for seeking proper medical advice from a doctor. Good luck!


Submit a Comment

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay, hope these help. I've found the potassium in particular is good.

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    Thanks for the suggestion of sodium and potassium supplements, I'll try that. Thank you

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay, oh what a lovely comment to leave - thank you so much!!! I think that's the great thing about writing, not only do I learn much more, but if it does help other folks, then that's a huge bonus.

    I only had night cramps once - and I'm glad I never had them again, so painful - and this was a number of years ago. It was a very hot summer - highly unusual for Scotland of course and we went out hiking everyday and so on. It wasn't until later talking to an experienced hiker that he reckoned I was a bit dehydrated and my sodium and potassium levels were probably far too low, so causing cramps. I took some supplement with these in it and it did work.

    RLS is awful. Thankfully I never got to the level where it was controlling everything I did in life. But I have read and spoken to quite a few people who couldn't really go anywhere if it involved sitting for any length of time - such as a resteraunt, cinema, theatre etc. Some couldn't even go on holiday as it meant sitting in a car, bus, train or plane for hours. So it's not that RLS is life threatening, but your quality of life can take a drastic downward turn. I know of people who have been on Parkinson's drugs for a number of years for this syndrome, only to find that after 6 months or so, the drugs have no effect. Drugs are fine, but I'm really hoping that research will get to the route cause.

    Rosemay as always thank you for your lovely comment and continued support - your awesome!!

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 5 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    This is an awesome hub Helen. Reading through the comments it must be very satifying to be able to help someone else solve their problems or recognise their symptoms. You are doing such a great job... our own personal clinic :))

    I have never suffered with this but I imagine it is very uncomfortable and I can see how it would affect daily life too. My legs on the very odd occasion will jump as I am falling asleep I just put it down to the nervous sysytem settling. What I do suffer with is bad cramp in my feet either in bed or on long car journeys and this is probably due to not enough exercise.

    You are doing an awesome job my friend.

    Voting UP and hitting most buttons.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MT - yes, the aches and pains are a very common thing and it's not surprising that people will feel this when their muscles and nerves have been getting jangled for half the night. I think you're doing great looking into all this and it can only help to improve things in the long run for you!!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 5 years ago from Minnesota

    I did more research on all my meds. I think what I am experiencing is more 'Myopathy' from a statin drug that I take for high cholesterol. I think I may have to get off it and take a different approach, like supplements. Your article really helped me look into this. I do know I have RLS too but I also have pain and aches in my legs after sleeping at night.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MT - wow this would be great if you could find out the cause for your RLS - it would have helped as well if I had spelled the name properly - pozac was meant to be prozac!!

    Let me know how you get on!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi mary615, many thanks for stopping by and for your fascinating comment. Now I've not heard about the bar of soap - I wonder what is in the soap that would help with cramps - very painful as well!! Cramps can be circulation problems and they reckon RLS can be as well, so definitely, it is worth a try!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Eddy many thanks for your smashing comment and glad that you liked the hub - thank you!!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 5 years ago from Minnesota

    Seeker-I think you just solved a huge part of why I have RLS-You mentioned prozac was one of the causes of your RLS. I am on an anti-depressant called zoloft and wonder if this is a side effect. I'm off to google it. Thanks for the great suggestion on your meds.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, lovely to hear from you as always!!

    The episode you had with your legs 'not calming down' sounds like classic RLS. The interesting thing is that people do have very short and temporary bursts of this syndrome and then it doesn't come back again or if it does, again it is very temporary, and usually fairly mild. I often think that the answer might lie with people like your self who only have it for those short periods of time rather than other people who have it for longer. I think when it's a long term thing, so much else can mask what is going on!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi cameciob, many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such an interesting comment.

    That is fascinating about the weather! I have only heard of this once before and that was many years ago from an old guy I used to look after.

    I have heard that pregnancy can cause RLS and the symptoms do pass afterwards, so that is also very interesting that your symptoms reduced greatly after the birth. I wonder if there is also some kind of hormone trigger, since women who are pre-menopausal and people as the age generally tend to develop RLS more. And yes, walking and standing has always helped me a great deal.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi jeannieinabottle, many thanks for stopping by and leaving such an interesting comment.

    Sorry to hear that you may have RLS - it sound a bit like it. Hopefully you'll find something to settle the symptoms down!!

  • mary615 profile image

    Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

    This must be a very uncomfortable condition to have. Fortunately, I have never experienced this. I used to have leg cramps during the night that were terrible. I read about putting a bar of soap under the sheets. I first laughed at that, but I swear it works!!! I wonder if a bar of soap would help with restless leg syndrome? Doesn't matter what brand of soap. It would be worth a try.

    Voted this UP, etc.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

    Thanks for this interesting and useful hub Seeker.

    I suffer from this only every now and then thank goodness.

    I know this will benefit many readers .

    Thanks for sharing and I vote up,across and share.


  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi jantamaya, lovely to hear from you and many thanks for stopping by and for the lovely comment!!

    Yes, I've heard that magnesium has helped quite a lot of people with RLS. It's such a stupid and irritating thing to have as well. Thankfully the steps I've taken to get rid of the symptoms have worked so far - and long may this last!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Audrey, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the article!!

    I'm with you - I absolutely detest when I get RLS and that's why I decided rather than sitting back waiting for a cure that might never happened, I had to find out what triggered my symptoms and what didn't. At the moment things are fine, but I'm always on the look out and yes, as we get older it does get worse!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Tom, lovely to hear from you and many thanks for the very positive comment - greatly appreciated!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MT!! I honestly sympathise with you - I absolutely detest when I have RLS!! I used to have to stand up for most of the day when it was really bad, but then I found out it was the pozac pills that was causing it - so I put them in the bucket!!

    When I tried different things with my diet, everything that seemed to have a high salt content - especially things like salted peanuts - would start it off. I don't know if you get the same, but I can ususally feel the RLS starting up sometimes before going to be as a feeling in the hip/bum area? I then do some exercises to get rid of this feeling and it has worked so far. I also found that in addition to watching the salt, lighter meals seem to work with me better rather than having say two or three courses in one go.

    I hope some of this helps and I'd really like to know how you get on with this - good luck!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alicia, many thanks for stopping by always great to hear from you.

    Thank you for such a lovely comment - it makes the hard work very worthwhile if people do get something out of the articles!!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Faith A Mullen, many thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment.

    Yes, sitting for a while and a few other triggers can set RLS off. I'm really glad that I've managed to get my symptoms under control, it's a really irritating condition to have, especially when trying to sleep at night!!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Thank you for sharing this informative and interesting hub. Sounds like an awful syndrome. Passing this on for those who can benefit from the information. I've never heard of this nor had it but I have has at one time or another strange things occur to my legs and feet. Once for several month my right heel hurt so bad I couldn't stand on it so I hobbled until it went away. Couldn't figure out what it was. Then there have been times I'll lay down and my legs won't want to calm down. They feel restless and strange and I can't rest until it goes away. Go figure. At least these are symptoms that pass and haven't shown up again.

  • cameciob profile image

    cameciob 5 years ago

    Seeker, you have done an awesome job on this article. I have RLS myself. It first showed when I was just about 20. At times can be very bad. I noticed that lots of time the trigger is the weather.

    One odd thing was that after I gave birth my RLS disappeared for almost 3 years. I stand a lot and walk a lot and this maybe helps.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    This is really interesting. I have been wondering lately if I am starting to develop Restless Legs Syndrome. I can't seem to keep my legs still at night anymore. I toss and turn the whole night. My legs don't quite feel right... I keep them moving a lot. After reading this, I suspect part of the issue is my job and sitting for a long period of time. Thanks for the information!

  • jantamaya profile image

    Maria Janta-Cooper 5 years ago from UK

    This is an exceptionally skillfully and expertly written article. (Voted up and shared.) Thank you for the abundance of valuable information. I have enjoyed learning a good deal about the RLS. I think that I had sometimes slight problems with RLS and magnesium helped me well with it.

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

    I hate the RLS that I get. And it has gotten worse as I age--sharing this great article!

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi my friend, very interesting and informative hub. Will be very useful to all those who have this of may think they may have it . Well done !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 5 years ago from Minnesota

    Thanks so much Seeker for a very comprehensive and informative hub on RLS. I am really struggling with it in the last few months, more than in the past. I am looking at all the categories you wrote about and will work on what I can do to lessen it. I do find that when I sleep in too late, the RLS in worse. I was interested to hear about salt being bad for RLS-this is something I need to work on. Thanks again for a really helpful hub. It's very timely for me as I've been having trouble sleeping in my bed. I flop like a crappy all night and it's really affecting my quality of sleep. I'm sharing and tweeting this useful hub.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is another great article, Seeker7. I love all the details that you put into your health hubs. Sharing your personal experience with restless legs syndrome and its treatment adds even more value to the hub! Thanks for sharing the very useful information.

  • Faith A Mullen profile image

    Faith A Mullen 5 years ago

    Very useful information (voted up!). I have suffered from this occasionally, and never thought about the connection there might be to working while sitting for long hours. Thanks for posting.