"Doc, if you can't help me, I'm gonna to cut both my legs off."
"My legs decide they want to start dancing when I go to bed."
"My legs don't stop moving all night long."
These statements may sound somewhat exaggerated to someone who hasn't experienced restless legs syndrome (RLS), but the feelings are very real to those afflicted with RLS. This disorder, which often appears in otherwise healthy people, is not related to emotional or psychiatric disorders. RLS affects primarily the legs, but can in fact be seen in the arms as well.
People experience restless legs in different ways, but all describe very unpleasant "creepy, crawly" sensations that occur in the legs when they are sitting or lying still. For some, RLS can be very painful, yet the pain is unlike that of a leg cramp. RLS is also different from the feeling of a limb that has "fallen asleep" when the blood supply is cut off, and from the "pins and needles" or "burning" sensation sometimes experienced by diabetics. The pain and unpleasant feelings of RLS appear most often in the calves and can be temporarily relieved by stretching, moving and or massaging the legs.
If you suffer from restless legs syndrome, you will find that it occurs primarily when you are awake, but that it may also be present during your sleep. The constant need to stretch or move the legs to get rid of the uncomfortable or painful feeling often prevents a person with RLS from achieving and maintaining sleep. Excessive fatigue during the day can be one result of the frequent arousals caused by RLS. This increase in daytime fatigue may in turn cause you to limit your activities during the day, including business meetings, travel and social activities.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
Another disorder that affects the limbs and a person's ability to sleep at night, is periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD); also known as nocturnal myoclonus. While the movements of RLS are a voluntary response to uncomfortable feelings in the limbs when a person is awake, the movements of PLMD only occur when a person is asleep and are involuntary.
Although some people may occasionally notice the involuntary movements of PLMD at awakening, most not aware of these movements. Most people with RLS have periodic limb movements, but those with PLMD often do not have RLS.
Periodic limb movements, like RLS usually occur in the legs but can also affect the arms. The movements occur at periodic intervals, typically every 30 seconds. They usually consist of a rhythmic extension of the toes, together with an upward bending of the ankle, knee or hip. The movements usually do not occur continuously throughout the night, but instead are more often seen in the first half of the night.
*Most People with RLS have Periodic Limb Movements, but patients with PLMD often do not have RLS