What does restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel like?

Restless legs syndrome is a common movement disorder. It is usually worse when you are less active or resting (e.g., early morning, nighttime, long car or plane ride). You may feel fidgety and have a strong urge to move your legs. RLS doesn’t feel the same for everyone. Your legs may:

  • Ache
  • Burn
  • Hurt
  • Itch
  • Pull
  • Tingle

What causes RLS?

RLS can occur alone (primary RLS), or be linked to another condition or a drug (secondary RLS).

  • The cause of primary RLS is not clearly understood.
  • Secondary RLS can be linked to low iron levels, kidney problems, medications, or pregnancy.
    • Ask your pharmacist to look at your meds. RLS might be a side effect of one of them.

How does RLS affect your life?

  • Mild RLS might be annoying, but may not cause other problems.
  • Moderate to severe RLS may affect other parts of your life. It has been linked to:
    • Anxiety and depression
    • Decreased ability to do your job
    • Decreased quality of life
    • Insomnia or trouble sleeping

What makes RLS symptoms worse?

  • Tobacco and some foods and drinks can make RLS symptoms worse. Try to limit or avoid:
    • Tobacco products
    • Eating or drinking things containing alcohol or caffeine (e.g., chocolate, coffee, soda, tea).

What can help prevent and/or relieve RLS symptoms?

  • Use distractions when still for long periods of time (e.g., puzzles, reading, watching TV).
  • Get regular exercise (e.g., biking, swimming, walking). Aim for 30 to 60 minutes each day.
    • Avoid extremely strenuous exercise (e.g., hot yoga, long-distance running)
    • Avoid exercising within one to two hours of going to bed.
  • Expose legs to temperature changes (e.g., hot baths, heating pads, cold compresses).
  • Use movement techniques: walk around, massage, stretch, vibrating leg pads (e.g., Relaxis).
    • Schedule stops on long drives to get out of the car and walk around.
    • Try to get an aisle seat on flights to make moving around a little bit easier.
    • Stretch your legs, including calves, hips, and front and back of thighs.

When should I talk to my prescriber about my meds?

  • Some meds used to treat RLS stop working after a while.
    • Talk to your prescriber if meds don’t seem to be working as well as they used to.
  • Talk to your prescriber about side effects. Some of these include daytime sleepiness; dizziness; low blood pressure; or difficulty controlling urges to gamble, spend money, or have sex.

This post may not cover all possible information. It does not replace the need for professional medical care. Always follow the instructions from your healthcare provider.

Pharmacist’s Letter April 2017; Resource #330404