The hallmark symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS) are uncomfortable sensations in the legs and the often uncontrollable urge to move them. Ranging from mild to irritating to painful, these sensations are described throbbing, tingling, crawling and pulling. Symptoms usually affect both legs and less frequently appear in the arms, head or trunk. Movement seems to relieve the discomfort, so a person may move the legs constantly when sitting, pace back and forth, rub the legs, stretch or bend.
The signs of RLS become worse later in the day and at night, disrupting sleep which, in turn seems to aggravate the sensations. A unique characteristic of RLS is that attempting to rest only appears to activate symptoms. Periods of long inactivity, such as long flights or watching a move, also may trigger symptoms.
The intensity and frequency of symptoms of restless leg syndrome vary from person to person, and affect each individual differently day to day depending on the severity of the condition. Mild cases delay getting to sleep and may lead to minor difficulty with daytime activities. In moderate cases, symptoms appear one or two times a week, but cause more significant problems with sleep and problems with tasks during the day. Severe cases result in painful discomfort occurring more than twice a week severely disrupting sleep, reducing ability to think and perform tasks, causing irritability and possibly leading to depression.
The signs of restless leg syndrome do not indicate Parkinson’s disease, but many people with Parkinson’s also have RLS. In this and other cases involving related medical conditions, the symptoms of RLS tend to be more severe and develop rapidly. Without the presence of a related condition, RLS progresses slowly with symptoms not appearing regularly for years.