Restless leg syndrome (RLS), a sleep-depriving condition that affects over 22 million Americans, is often missed by doctors, or misdiagnosed as poor circulation, arthritis, back problems, varicose veins or even depression. However, there are certain symptoms that indicate RLS may be occurring:

  • Uncomfortable feelings in the legs, such as tingling or a “creeping” sensation, and a desire to move the limbs.
  • Discomfort in the evening, at night and while at rest.
  • Only temporary relief from walking or stretching.

The most distinctive indication of RLS (sometimes referred to as Ekbom disease) is that lying down and trying to relax activates the symptoms. As a result, most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. The resulting sleep deprivation has a negative impact on all aspects of life, including work, daily activity and personal relationships. People with RLS are often unable to concentrate, have impaired memory and struggle to complete mundane tasks. Other conditions such as diabetes and peripheral neuropathy may contribute to RLS symptoms.

There is no known cure for RLS, but the symptoms can often be minimized and may even disappear by following a simple protocol supervised by a specially trained physical therapist. Clinical treatment for RLS in physiotherapy can include:

  • Mild-to-moderate exercise: physical therapists will recommend a program of exercises that have been shown in trial studies to relieve symptoms.
  • Stretching program: Stretching before bed appears to be effective at preventing some RLS episodes, but only if it’s combined with other lifestyle changes recommended by a physical therapist.
  • Neuro gliding exercises: sometimes referred to as “flossing”, neuro gliding is a form of stretching that releases tension in the nerve. Physical therapists may perform this exercise in the clinic and show patients how they can do the same stretch at home.
  • Relaxation exercises: relaxation techniques can relieve RLS symptoms.
  • Movement pattern re-education: typically involves neuromuscular re-education of movement, balance, coordination, kinesthetic sense, posture and one’s own sitting and standing activities.

In addition to physiotherapy treatment, changes in lifestyle can help reduce the symptoms of RLS.

 

If you suspect you may be suffering from restless leg syndrome, contact a licensed physiotherapist for a free screening. The physiotherapist will ask you to assess your symptoms in terms of their severity (mild, moderate or severe) and their impact on your pattern of sleep, daily activities and lifestyle. After a complete  assessment, the physiotherapist will be able to recommend a combination of treatment, exercises and lifestyle changes that will help you relieve your symptoms and get a good night’s rest.

 

Sources

Statistics and misdiagnoses

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/restless-legs-syndrome-often-misdiagnosed-may-affect-as-many-as-one-in-10-adults/2013/12/06/b937e144-27a0-11e3-b3e9-d97fb087acd6_story.html

Study showing reduced symptoms after six weeks:

http://www.jabfm.org/content/19/5/487.long

Stretches to relieve RLS symptoms:

http://www.healthline.com/health/restless-leg-syndrome/exercises-to-alleviate-rls#2

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671772/?tool=pmcentrez

Definition of movement re-education:

https://www.webpt.com/cpt-codes