Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome

What is a Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a sensory neurological disorder that is characterised by unpleasant sensations in the legs and the compelling need to move the legs. The most common sensations have been described as cramping, soreness, creeping or crawling sensation in the calves or feet which can vary in severity from mild discomfort to severe pain. Restless Leg Syndrome is usually experienced when trying to sleep or when seated.

Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms?

The most distinctive symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome are cramping, soreness, creeping or crawling in the lower legs when lying down and trying to relax. As a result, most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Over a period of time this may cause daytime exhaustion and fatigue.

What Causes Restless Legs?

The exact cause of Restless Leg Syndrome is unknown but it has been linked to:

  • Iron deficiency and poor iron transport around the body;
  • Family genetics – 50% of RLS is linked to genetic chromosome 12 or 14, depending on the family;
  • chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and peripheral neuropathies;
  • pregnant women in their last trimester;
  • people taking certain medications – such as anti-nausea, anti-seizure, and antipsychotic drugs.Restless Leg Syndrome

Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome


  • A number of medications may be tried to treat the disorder, including central nervous system depressants, benzodiazepines, opioids and anticonvulsants. Medication that affect dopamine transmission in the central nervous system (Sinemet, Madopar, Pergolide and Cabergoline) have been shown to help Restless Leg Syndrome. Your GP or specialist will provide you with the relevant support and medication if you require it.
  • If you are Iron, folate or magnesium deficient you GP will be able to perform blood test to confirm any deficiencies and prescribe the necessary supplements

Therapy – Exercise

  • Movement can bring temporary relief from the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome, this is why you may feel that walking in the night when you get symptoms feels good. Alternatively, performing a program of regular moderate exercise may help reduce your symptoms and help you sleep better. However, excessive exercise has been reported by some patients to aggravate RLS symptoms.

Your physiotherapist will be able to monitor and advise you on suitable exercises to help with Restless Leg Syndrome.

Therapy – Massage, Heat and Ice

  • While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest massaging cures Restless Leg Syndrome, but many patients do feel symptoms can be eased by regular massage.
  • Using a heat pack, having a warm bath or placing an ice pack on your symptomatic areas for 10-15mins before bed may also help relieve symptoms.


For patients where there is no apparent associated medical condition, certain lifestyle changes and activities may reduce or eliminate symptoms. These include:

  • decreased use of caffeine,
  • decreased use of alcohol,
  • decreased use of tobacco,
  • addressing any stressful influences in your life.

For specific advice, please contact your physiotherapist for advice.

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