Restless leg syndrome is often misdiagnosed as stress, muscle cramps, or nervousness, and in the case of children, attention deficit disorder or growing pains. People may also refuse to see a doctor because they don’t feel they can describe their symptoms adequately, and they’re afraid their doctor won’t take them seriously. If you suspect you have RLS, be sure to speak about it with a doctor you trust.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive test for RLS, so your podiatrist will likely make the diagnosis based on a history of your symptoms. He or she may ask about your sleep patterns, whether you feel drowsy during the day, as well as the sensations you experience in your legs or other limbs, and how often and how intensely they occur. Your doctor will also probably check with you to see if anyone else in your family has had restless leg syndrome or symptoms.
Some tests may be performed to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. These may include tests for iron deficiency, nerve function, and muscle activity. Your doctor may also recommend an overnight sleep study to see if you have PLMS.
When you find that your legs just simply want to get going on their own, there are a few things you can do to rein them in a little. Medications are one route, but there are also some home remedies that may prove effective. Talk with your doctor about the best options for you.
Some things you can do on your own include the following:
- Take hot baths (as though this were a chore). Scented candles and scandalous novels are, of course, optional.
- Get massages (again, not exactly torture, here). You can massage your legs yourself (possibly while in the hot bath), or pay (or bribe) someone to do it for you.
- Alternate cold and heat on your legs, or simply try one or the other to see what works best for you.
- Relax with yoga or meditation. While stress doesn’t necessarily cause RLS, it can make symptoms worse. Relaxing may help a bit.
- Try exercising and stretching, although doing this too intensely or too late in the day may make your symptoms worse.
- Reduce your intake or use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Quitting is tough, but so is taking a five-hour flight when you can’t stop moving your legs.
- Try to sleep or rest when your legs seem to be less troublesome. This might mean altering your sleep schedule if you can, such as going to bed and rising a bit later.
- Take lots of breaks during long car trips, during movies, etc.
- Try over the counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen, to relieve symptoms.
- Join a support group. RLS sufferers may find advice, support, and understanding from others who have the syndrome.
Your doctor may also suggest some other medications to help you control your restless leg symptoms. These may include medications commonly used to treat either Parkinson’s disease (they affect dopamine levels in the brain) or epilepsy. Opioids can be very addictive, but taken in small amounts they may be effective at easing symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest medications to relax your muscles or help you sleep. You should be aware, however, that many medicinal treatments of RLS tend to become less effective over time, so you may need to switch medications at some point, or try combinations of medications to find a solution that will work for you.
It may be that your legs will always be a little independent. But, with the right care, you can find a nice balance both you and your wandering limbs can live with.