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Nervous Legs: What They Are and How to Treat Them

A woman with nervous legs syndrome awaiting diagnosis in a doctor's office.

Many individuals know what it’s like to have nervous legs at night. As you lie in bed, ready for sleep, your legs start crawling, tingling, or itching just as your body begins to relax. Despite your best efforts, you can’t ignore the uncomfortable sensations, and eventually, you get the urge to move.

After stretching and pacing, you feel relieved for a moment. When you lie down again, your leg spasms start back up.

It’s estimated that one out of ten people suffers from leg spasms, and finding help and support isn’t always easy. There are a lot of people who don’t receive proper treatment for leg spasms. There aren’t many explanations for it, and sufferers are often dismissed simply as “nervous.”

Sometimes you don’t realize how much these distressing symptoms can affect your life until you’ve experienced them yourself. It’s possible that some doctors don’t even take symptoms seriously or realize that leg spasms are real. Meanwhile, twitchy legs are becoming more common and recognized in society. If your legs feel heavy and numb, or you suffer from aching legs, you can find relief through leg muscle spasm treatment.


Nervous Legs: Studies and Facts to Consider

There is a strong genetic component to having nervous legs, according to some studies, with 60 percent of people suffering from it having a family member with it as well. Approximately 40 to 90 percent of patients have a first-degree relative who has the disease, like their parents, siblings, or children. There are a few genetic changes that increase leg spasms, but more are likely to be found.

In a 2021 review published in the journal Sleep Medicine, scientists also found a link between nervous legs and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While this is just one of dozens of other bodily associations, illnesses, and conditions, there’s still a lot to learn about all of them.

Approximately half of the patients in certain countries experience seasonal exacerbations in spring and summer too. Patients with moderate severity are more likely to experience those seasonal effects.

Regardless of the cause or a number of other associations, there’s help out there. You can calm your jittery legs and enjoy a peaceful and refreshing night’s sleep at home by practicing simple lifestyle changes, implementing self-help remedies, and ultimately getting the right treatment for your leg spasms.


Signs and Symptoms of Nervous Legs

It’s hard to describe nervous legs. You’ll probably feel itchy, tingly, prickly, crawling, burning, pulling, tugging, and aching. There are people who say it feels like bugs crawling up their legs, like a carbonated drink bubbling in their veins, or an itch deep within their bones. There are times when the symptoms are painful, but most of the time they’re just uncomfortable and disturbing.

Leg spasms are neurological. You may not be able to sleep for hours because of these sensations. Anyone can get them, but it’s more prominent in women and older adults. Early adulthood can trigger mild symptoms, which then get worse with age. Symptoms tend to get worse after 50 and can disrupt your sleep quite frequently after that point.

There’s a theory that nervous legs are caused by low iron levels in the brain. Dopamine imbalance is also thought to play a part in it.

Some interesting facts about muscle pain and spasms in legs are:

  • You can experience a strong, often irresistible urge to move your legs, accompanied by uncomfortable sensations deep within them.
  • Symptoms worsen when you rest. Whenever you’re sitting, lying down, or trying to relax, you can experience those uncomfortable leg sensations.
  • Symptoms worsen at night. Nighttime is when nerves flare up. If the symptoms are more severe, they will usually start earlier in the day and get worse at night.
  • When you’re sleeping, your legs twitch or kick. People with nervous legs at night are also more likely to have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which involves jerking or cramping of the legs at night.

It should also be noted that in very severe cases, leg spasms can affect your arms too.


Self-Help Tips for Nervous Legs

You can overcome nervous legs by avoiding triggers, such as:

  • Finding out how your body reacts to caffeine. Caffeine triggers nervous legs in some people. However, recent studies show it might actually be good for others. Keep track of your symptoms after cutting out coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
  • Stress management. When you’re anxious and overwhelmed, your symptoms can get worse. Meditation and deep breathing are great ways to keep stress in check.
  • Exercise, but not too much. Getting regular exercise can significantly ease jittery leg symptoms, but be careful not to overdo it, especially close to bedtime. Strenuous exercise can exacerbate leg spasms, so don’t exercise so intensely that your joints or muscles hurt afterward.
  • Getting rid of cigarettes. Cigarettes, vaporizers, and e-cigarettes all contain nicotine, which can impair blood flow to the muscles.
  • Limiting or eliminating alcohol. Be cautious about drinking in the evening if you have leg spasms. In addition to disrupting sleep, alcohol also makes you more likely to wake up with nervous legs.

Get regular exercise and stretches every day, improve your sleep, and avoid long periods of inactivity.


Treatment for Leg Spasms: Your Next Step

Knowing what you want from a visit to your healthcare provider will help you get the most out of finding a remedy for your nervous legs. Make a list of questions you want answered before your visit. Ask your provider questions.  Take notes, if necessary, so you can remember what he says.

If you get a new diagnosis, write it down, along with any new medicine, treatment, or test. If your provider gives you any new instructions, be sure to also write those down. Understand why you’re getting a new medicine or treatment. Make sure you know what the side effects are.

Check if there’s another way to treat your condition. Make sure you know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean. If you choose not to take the medicine or not to have a test or procedure, you should know ahead of time what to expect.

Make a note of the date, time, and purpose of your follow-up appointment. If you have questions after returning home, know how to reach your provider.

Several research papers have found that self-education and using other valuable resources may help patients with nervous legs. This can be used, along with appropriate and targeted treatments for leg spasms, to get better results.

Note that leg spasms can be a lifelong condition that might get worse with age, but some people go into remission and don’t have any symptoms for days to years. Keep your doctor updated on how you’re doing. If you start to feel worse, they might suggest different lifestyle changes or medications. It can help to talk to other people who know what you’re going through, whether it’s a family member who has it or a support group.


Wellness and Pain

When it comes to nervous legs, you’re better off seeing a doctor who truly cares about you and your health. Physical therapy, vein ablation, massage therapy, and acupuncture therapy are vital options you should consider.

Practitioners at Wellness and Pain confidently provide these important evaluations, apply their professional expertise, and offer the caring and sensitive leg muscle spasm treatment you need to improve any symptoms you are experiencing.

Covered by Most Insurances and Most Unions

Wellness and Pain accepts most major insurance plans. Here is a list of some of the major insurance plans we accept. If you do not see your insurance plan listed, please call our office to confirm.

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