• Restless Legs Syndrome



    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder. It is characterized by:
    • Unpleasant sensations in the legs
    • An irresistible urge to move the legs


    The cause of primary RLS is unknown. RLS may have some genetic components. In some cases, it may be caused by other conditions or certain medications. This is called secondary RLS.
    Many people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). This is a related motor disorder characterized by:
    • Involuntary, repetitive, jerking movements
    • Interrupted sleep because of periodic leg movements

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of getting RLS include:
    • Family history
    • Pregnancy
    • Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, caffeine, theophylline, dopamine antagonists, and sedating antihistamines
    Certain chronic diseases may lead to secondary RLS. These include:


    Symptoms may include:
    • Feelings of tingling, creeping, pulling, prickling, pins and needles, or pain in the legs during periods of rest or inactivity—may also occur in the arms
    • Symptoms typically get worse at night
    • A strong urge to relieve uncomfortable sensations with movement
    • Restlessness, including floor pacing, tossing and turning in bed, and rubbing the legs
    • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
    Symptoms may begin at any age, but they are most common in people older than 60 years old. Symptoms usually increase in the evening and during times of rest, relaxation, or inactivity. For this reason, people with RLS generally have insomnia, which may be severe.


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and neurologic exam will be done. The diagnosis is based mainly on your symptoms. There is no specific test for RLS.
    Tests to check for conditions that may trigger RLS include:
    Nerves of the Leg
    Leg Nerves
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    There is no cure for RLS. Treatments are aimed at relieving or reducing symptoms.

    Treatment for Mild Cases of RLS

    • Massage your legs.
    • Use a heating pad or ice pack.
    • Take a hot bath.
    • Avoid using tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine.
    • Follow a sleep routine.
    • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
    • Avoid the use of medications that may worsen RLS.

    Treatment for Conditions That May Trigger RLS

    Effective treatment of conditions that may trigger RLS can ease or resolve your symptoms:

    Treatment for More Severe Cases of RLS

    Dopamine agonists are the only drugs that are FDA approved to treat restless leg syndrome. They are often considered the most effective type of medication for this condition.
    Other medications may be used to help control symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Some medication options include clonidine, anticonvulsants, and opioids. Your doctor will select the medication based on your symptoms and medical history.


    There are no current guidelines to prevent RLS because the cause is unknown.


    National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org

    Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation http://www.rls.org


    Canadian Sleep Society http://www.css-scs.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


    Cui Y, Wang Y, et al. Acupuncture for restless legs syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(4)CD006457.

    Explore restless legs syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/rls. Updated November 1, 2010. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    Restless legs syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    Restless legs syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless%5Flegs/detail%5Frestless%5Flegs.htm. Updated June 13, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    Salas RE, Gamaldo CE, et al. Update in restless legs syndrome. Curr Opin Neurol. 2010;23(4):401-406.

    What is Willis-Ekbom disease (WED)/RLS? Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation website. Available at: http://www.rls.org/about-wed-rls. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    11/26/2012 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Aurora R, Kristo D, Bista S, et al. The treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder in adults—an update for 2012: Practice parameters with an evidence-based systematic review and meta-analyses: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline. Sleep. 2012;35(8):1039-1062.

    Revision Information

  • LiveWell personal health survey

    How healthy are you really? Find out – free.Learn more

    It's time to stop guessing. If you want to make some changes but just aren't sure how, the free personal health survey from LiveWell is a great place to start.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease and prevent heart attacks. HeartSHAPE® is a painless, non-invasive test that checks pictures of your heart for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.