Sometimes you have the urge to move so often that you’re accused of having “ants in your pants,” or you “just can’t sit still.” But the unexplainable desire to move your legs, particularly when you’re resting, and pain following extended periods of sitting, may be signs of something called RLS.
What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, restless legs syndrome (RLS), results in unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings in the legs and an overwhelming desire to move them. Symptoms usually happen in the late afternoon or evening and are most acute at night when you may be resting, such as lying or sitting in bed. The pain also may strike when you’re inactive and sitting for a long time (for example, when traveling by plane or sitting to watch a movie). Because symptoms can worsen during the night, it can become tough to fall asleep or get back to sleep after you awaken. Leg movement like walking normally relieves the pain but the feelings often reappear once you stop moving.
“RLS is classified as a sleep disorder since the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep, and as a movement disorder since people are forced to move their legs in order to relieve symptoms. It is, however, best characterized as a neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself.”
People who suffer from RLS report a multitude of symptoms, many of which can be relieved with treatment including ketamine therapy. The most common symptom of RLS is the urge to move your legs, but there are other accompanying characteristics:
- Sensations that start after rest. The feeling typically happens after you’ve been lying down or sitting for extended periods, either due to travel, for instance, or simply a long meal or conversation.
- Movement equals relief. The discomfort of RLS subsides with movement, like stretching, shaking your legs, walking, or pacing.
- The desire to move your legs happens in the evening, with symptoms happening mainly at night.
- Your legs twitch at night, which could be associated with another, more general condition called “periodic limb movement of sleep,” which results in your legs twitching and kicking, sometimes throughout the night, while you sleep.
The sensations are often described as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, and electric. People with RLS may experience remissions, mostly during the early stages of the disorder, but symptoms generally worsen over time.
Causes And Risk Factors
Doctors and researchers are often stumped by the cause for RLS. Studies show the condition could be triggered by an imbalance of brain chemicals like dopamine, charged with sending messages to regulate muscle movement. Other causes:
- Sometimes the condition runs in families, especially if it starts before age 40. Studies have identified locations on the chromosomes where RLS genes may be present.
- Pregnancy or hormonal changes could temporarily worsen signs and symptoms. Some women get RLS for the first time when pregnant, particularly during the last trimester. However, symptoms normally disappear after delivery.
RLS can happen at any age, with even children suffering from it. The disorder becomes more common as people age and is more likely to happen in women than in men.
People who experience RLS often have co-occurrences of other conditions, which may include:
- Peripheral neuropathy. This harm to the nerves in your feet and hands is occasionally due to chronic diseases like alcoholism and diabetes.
- Iron deficiency is a problem. Even without anemia, lack of iron can trigger or worsen RLS. If you have a history of blood loss from your bowels or stomach, suffer heavy menstrual periods, or frequently donate blood, you could have iron deficiency.
- If you experience kidney failure, you could also have iron deficiency and anemia. If kidneys don’t work properly, iron stores in your blood may shrink. This and other bodily changes in chemistry can cause or worsen RLS.
- Lacerations on the spinal cord caused by harm or injury have been linked to restless leg syndrome. Having anesthesia applied to the spinal cord, like with a spinal block, also boosts the risk of developing RLS.
Once your condition has been diagnosed through a physical exam, blood tests, X-Rays, and other procedures, you and your healthcare provider can begin talking about treatment options. If the condition isn’t accompanied by other illnesses, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter medication, a change in sleep habits, or trying ketamine therapy for RLS. Ketamine was introduced in the 1960s as a new anesthetic but is known to lessen symptoms of RLS, mental illness, and chronic pain conditions. Contact us today to learn more!