The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Restless Foot Syndrome? Yes.

Posted by on Friday, September 14th, 2012

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You’ve probably heard of Restless Leg Syndrome. I say “probably” because there have been ads for “RLS” medication all over the place for several years now. The idea of RLS as a medical problem is still relatively new, though. It’s one of those things where, if forty years ago you had said to a friend or family member, “I’ve got this restless leg feeling,” you would have gotten an “Oh yeah? Deal with it” reaction. If you told a doctor, you might have gotten a suggestion of a glass of warm milk before bedtime (or a stiff drink–it all depends on your doctor’s proclivities!). Others might say, “What, restless legs? Got an urge to travel to some remote, off the beaten path place?”

Now, though, no syndrome will be left unmedicated if it affects enough people who will buy medication, and indeed, RLS does affect enough people–roughly ten percent of the population, though the number is suspected to be larger. Restless legs aren’t the whole story, though–you can actually have restless feet as well.

(See? You knew there had to be a foot connection!)

First, let’s explain Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).

Symptoms People who have RLS say that while sitting or lying down they experience an uncomfortable feeling in their legs that agitates them enough that they feel like they have to get up and walk around. The sensation is not numbness or cramping; rather, words used to describe it include “pulling, tugging, crawling, creeping, gnawing, burning.” The feeling can occur in the calves, thighs, or feet (there it is!), sometimes even in the arms. Those who feel it in their feet describe a tingling or tickling sensation, sometimes accompanied by a “hot foot” feeling. The symptoms of RLS can be bad enough that it keeps people from sleeping; some who have RLS may also  suffer from an associated condition, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) that causes kicking and twitching of the legs and feet during sleep. Women are more likely to have RLS than men, and the condition often worsens with age.

Causes No one is quite sure what causes RLS. Some believe that it has something to do with the brain’s overuse of iron. There does seem to be a genetic factor–having someone in your family with RLS doesn’t mean you will get it as well, but it increases the chances. It is associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, iron-deficiency, pregnancy, kidney disease, and diabetes. These don’t cause RLS but RLS symptoms may crop up if you have any of these. Therefore, treating these conditions can help with the RLS issues (how to treat pregnancy: have the baby). If you’re diabetic, of course, make sure you’re under the care of a podiatrist and make an appointment if you feel anything unusual in your feet. For many people, though, there doesn’t seem to be any discernible cause of RLS.

Treatment That doesn’t mean you can’ t do something about it. Most people can relieve symptoms immediately by just getting up and walking around. Massaging your legs, taking warm baths, or applying heat or ice can also help, but you can’t keep doing this all night if you’re trying to sleep. Instead, the best thing to do is try to prevent the symptoms from popping up.

Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to cut back on RLS flare ups (and of course, all of these go for people who feel symptoms in their feet):

  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Cut back on alcohol and smoking (and editorial rant here–stop smoking)
  • Exercise regularly, but avoid activity too close to bedtime
  • Get into a regular sleep pattern

If your RLS is bothering you so much that it’s affecting the rest of your life–think exhaustion, anxiety, depression–see a doctor. There are a few prescription medications that can help. If you have a strange feeling in your feet, you should also consider seeing a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for an exam just to make sure that it’s not something other than RLS–or RFS–that’s driving your feet crazy. It never hurts to get your feet checked!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.