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Restless Legs Syndrome

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome is a sensori-motor (movement) disorder characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, which are worse during periods of inactivity or rest or while sitting or lying down. There is often a positive family history of the disorder. Individuals affected with the disorder describe the sensations as pulling, drawing, crawling, wormy, boring, tingling, pins and needles, prickly, and sometimes painful sensations that are usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Sudden muscle jerks may also occur. Movement provides temporary relief from the discomfort. In rare cases, the arms may also be affected. Symptoms may interfere with sleep onset (sleep onset insomnia). Research suggests that restless legs syndrome is related to periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), another more common motor disorder which causes interrupted sleep. The symptoms often exhibit circadian rhythmicity in their peak occurrence during awakening hours.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment for restless legs syndrome is symptomatic. Massage and application of cold compresses may provide temporary relief. Medications such as temazepam, levodopa/carbidopa, bromocriptine, pergolide mesylate, oxycodone, propoxyphene, and codeine are effective in relieving the symptoms. However, many of these medications have side effects. Current research suggests correction of iron deficiency may improve symptoms for some patients.

What is the prognosis?

Restless legs syndrome is a life-long condition for which there is no cure. Symptoms may gradually worsen with age, and their most disabling feature is the sleep onset insomnia they cause, which can be severe.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports an extensive program of basic and clinical research aimed at discovering the mechanisms responsible for many motor disorders such as restless legs syndrome, especially those associated with sleep changes. The goal of this research is to discover ways to prevent, diagnose, treat, and, ultimately, find cures for motor disorders including restless legs syndrome.


National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
[email protected]
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

National Sleep Foundation
1522 K Street NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
[email protected]

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
819 Second Street, SW
Rochester, MN 55902-2985
[email protected]
Tel: 507-287-6465
Fax: 507-287-6312

Related NINDS Publications and Information

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep
Fact sheet on normal sleep and sleep disorders developed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Restless Legs Fact Sheet
Restless legs syndrome fact sheet developed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892