Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease[¹], is a neurological disorder where the patient has a compelling urge to move the legs in order to relieve uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, itching, tickling or burning. In some cases, this condition may also involve movement of the arms and torso. This condition occurs when resting and moving the legs commonly alleviates or completely diminishes the symptoms. The severity of these sensations varies from mild and irritating to severe and painful. As these symptoms occur at rest, patients have difficulty sleeping and this causes extreme fatigue. It commonly occurs in middle aged women, although it can also occur in males or at any age also. The severity of the symptoms increases with age.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS
- An uncomfortable sensation in the legs when resting.
- This sensation decreases upon movement.
- Symptoms commonly occur in the lower legs; however they can also affect the thigh and foot/ankle also.
- Usually both the legs are simultaneously affected.
- More than 80% of the patients also suffer from periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). This is characterized by involuntary twitches and jerky movements of the legs.
- The intensity of the symptoms increases in the evenings and are minimal in the mornings.
Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS
Usually the cause of RLS is not known. Majority of the cases have a hereditary factor to their RLS. The following are the contributing factors[²] of RLS:
- Anemia (low level of RBCs).
- Medical conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy and kidney failure.
- Certain medications.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Tobacco use.
- Caffeine consumption.
Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS
- If the cause is an underlying medical condition then treatment[³] of this helps greatly in reducing the RLS symptoms.
- In patients who don’t have an identifiable underlying cause, symptomatic treatment is done.
- Lifestyle modification such as limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption and tobacco use.
- Changes can be made in the sleeping patterns such that the patient sleeps more in the morning time as this is the time when the symptoms are at their minimal.
- Doing regular exercise.
- Taking vitamin supplements if there is any nutritional deficiency.
- Hot baths.
- Massage and stretching.
- Hot and cold packs can also help in some patients.
- If patient does not benefit from the above methods then a doctor can prescribe medications such as central nervous system depressants, opioids (codeine) or anti-convulsants in order to reduce the symptoms. Different patients benefit from different medications and after discussing with the doctor thoroughly, the appropriate medicine is selected.
- There is another approach known as the musculoskeletal treatment approach[⁴], which involves the use of osteopathic manipulations to alleviate the symptoms. More than 80% of the patients benefit from this mode of treatment. Gentle osteopathic manipulations are not only helpful, but are also free of any side-effects.