What causes urge to move legs and how to relieve it?

Symptom Database

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in the legs. This leg movement disorder can disrupt sleep and daily activities, causing significant discomfort and frustration. In this article, we will explore the causes of the urge to move legs and discuss various remedies and treatments for restless legs syndrome.

Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological disorder that primarily affects the legs. Individuals with RLS experience an overwhelming urge to move their legs, usually due to uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, crawling, or aching. These sensations typically worsen during periods of rest or inactivity, leading to sleep disturbances and an overall decrease in quality of life.

The Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

The exact cause of restless legs syndrome is still unknown, but several factors have been identified as potential contributors to the development of this condition. Some of the common causes and risk factors include:

  • Genetics: RLS tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic component.
  • Iron deficiency: Low levels of iron in the brain may disrupt dopamine signaling, leading to RLS symptoms.
  • Pregnancy: Many pregnant women experience RLS, especially during the third trimester.
  • Chronic diseases: Certain medical conditions, such as kidney failure and diabetes, are associated with an increased risk of developing restless legs syndrome.
  • Medications: Some medications, including certain antidepressants and antipsychotics, can trigger or worsen RLS symptoms.

Relieving the Urge to Move Legs

While there is no known cure for restless legs syndrome, several treatment options can help alleviate the symptoms and provide relief. It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another, so a trial-and-error approach may be necessary to find the most effective treatment plan.

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing certain lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce the severity of RLS symptoms. Consider the following tips:

  • Regular exercise: Engaging in moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming, can help reduce leg discomfort and improve sleep quality.
  • Establish a sleep routine: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate sleep patterns and minimize RLS symptoms.
  • Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid substances that may worsen RLS symptoms, such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
  • Warm baths or massages: Soaking in a warm bath or receiving a gentle leg massage before bedtime can help relax the muscles and alleviate discomfort.


If lifestyle changes alone are not sufficient, medications may be prescribed to manage restless legs syndrome. Some commonly used medications include:

  • Dopamine agonists: These medications increase dopamine levels in the brain, helping to reduce RLS symptoms. However, they may cause side effects such as nausea and dizziness.
  • Anticonvulsants: Certain anticonvulsant drugs, such as gabapentin and pregabalin, can effectively relieve RLS symptoms by reducing nerve excitability.
  • Opioids: In severe cases, opioids may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms, but they are typically reserved for short-term use due to the risk of dependence.

Alternative Therapies

In addition to conventional treatments, some individuals find relief from restless legs syndrome through alternative therapies. These may include:

  • Acupuncture: This ancient practice involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to promote balance and alleviate symptoms.
  • Yoga and meditation: Engaging in relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality.
  • Supplements: Certain supplements, such as iron, magnesium, and folate, may be beneficial for individuals with RLS, but it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements.


Restless legs syndrome can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, causing discomfort and sleep disturbances. While there is no cure for RLS, various treatments and lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms and provide relief. It is essential to work closely with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses the underlying causes and individual needs. By implementing the strategies discussed in this article, individuals with restless legs syndrome can find relief and improve their overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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