Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder. The part of the nervous system that affects the legs sends messages that causes an urge to move the legs. Since often times this is experienced at night RLS is also considered a sleep disorder.
It is not an uncommon problem. As many as 10 percent of the United States population may have moderate to severe RLS. It is estimated that another 5 percent suffers from a milder form of the disorder. The number of children who appear to have childhood RLS is rather alarming. Childhood RLS is estimated to affect almost 1 million school-age children, with one-third having moderate to severe symptoms. Imagine a child trying to explain the problem to a teacher.
People who have RLS sometimes have a difficult time describing the sensation to others. The sensations are most often found in the calves, thighs or feet. Sometimes they are reported in the arms and back as well.
The words used most often are:
* pins and needles
Consistently, no matter how they describe the sensation all of them express an intense need to move their legs.
The onset of symptoms are most often after a time of inactivity. So if they have been sitting in the same position for a long time, laying down and trying to sleep, watching a move in a theater or perhaps riding in a car.
Patients seem to find some relief from movement. So they may get up and walk around. They may trying stretching, pacing or simply go for a long walk. This compelling need to move is how the syndrome acquired its name.
For whatever reasons, RLS seems to be more bothersome and prominent in the evening and night. It may simply be this is when most people settle down and stop moving, which is when the sensations begin.
Many people who have RLS also have night twitches. If RLS is severe enough these involuntary twitches may also happen when the patient is awake. Often if it is while the patient is sleeping these involuntarily flexes and extending of the legs are not even noticed. They are completely unaware they are happening.
RLS is more than just a bothersome problem. It causes sleep deprivation which has severe consequences. It can have negative effects on school work, job opportunities and quality of life. There is on going research, but the causes are largely unknown and there are very few ideas to help with the problem.