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What are the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs, especially when sitting or lying down, accompanied by an irresistible urge to move about. These sensations usually occur deep inside the leg, between the knee and ankle; more rarely, they occur in the feet, thighs, arms, and hands. Although these sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides.

Most people find the symptoms of RLS to be less noticeable during the day and more pronounced in the evening or at night, especially during the onset of sleep. For many people, these symptoms disappear by early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time. Other triggering situations are periods of inactivity such as long car trips, sitting in a movie theater, long-distance flights, immobilization in a cast, or relaxation exercises.

The symptoms of RLS vary in severity and duration from person to person. Mild RLS occurs episodically, with only mild disruption in the onset of sleep, and causes little distress. In moderately severe cases, symptoms occur only once or twice a week but result in a significant delay in the onset of sleep, with some disruption of daytime function. In severe cases of RLS, symptoms occur more than twice a week and result in burdensome interruption of sleep and impairment of daytime function.

Symptoms may begin at any stage of life, although the disorder is more common with increasing age. Sometimes, people will experience spontaneous improvement over a period of weeks or months. Although rare, spontaneous improvement over a period of years also can occur. If these improvements occur, it is usually during the early stages of the disorder. In general, however, symptoms become more severe over time.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Symptoms of restless leg syndrome involve leg discomfort, which leads to an uncomfortable and uncontrollable urge to move the legs. The leg symptoms may be difficult to describe and can include feelings of throbbing, burning, or aching pain as well as tingling or crawling sensations. Onset of the symptoms usually occurs with inactivity or rest during the evening hours. The urge to move the legs can be overwhelming, and walking or pacing relieves these symptoms.
The primary symptom of restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an irresistible urge to move the legs, and may be paired with itching, creepy-crawly, tugging, pulling, burning, restless, or painful sensations in the limbs that:
  • Start or become worse at rest
  • Start or become worse at night, especially while lying down
  • Are eased by moving or rubbing them

Symptoms can range from mild to intolerable and often force sufferers to pace the floor or toss and turn in bed. The sensations associated with RLS can also be extremely uncomfortable and make both falling and staying asleep difficult.

As a result, RLS sufferers often become sleep deprived, which in turn causes them to feel tired during the day and have difficulty concentrating, which can harm both their work and their social lives.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs or arms, often described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling or painful burning. These symptoms occur when lying down or sitting for prolonged periods. RLS symptoms tend to follow a set daily cycle, with worse symptoms at night.

The sensations usually occur in the legs but can also occur in the arms, genital region, face and torso. One or both legs may be affected; for some, the sensations are also felt in the arms. RLS produces an irresistible urge to move your legs when the sensations occur, making sleep almost impossible. If you have RLS, you probably sleep best toward the end of the night or during the morning hours. Symptoms may improve, then worsen and improve again, over the years.

Researchers found that 15% of adults reported symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS) a few nights a week and 86% of them said their condition kept them from sleeping. Symptoms can begin at any time but are usually more common and more severe among older people. Children with RLS are sometimes thought to have growing pains or may be labeled hyperactive because they have trouble sitting still in school.

Continue Learning about Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.