What is restless leg syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a rather mysterious disease that is characterized by a strong, irresistible urge to move one’s legs. Symptoms tend to worsen at night and when sitting still, so it’s primarily a sleep disorder. It’s exact cause is still unknown, and some doctors are even skeptical about treating it as a unique condition. Some feel the cause is psychological rather than medical, although some research has hinted that it may be related imbalances in to the neurotransmitter dopamine. (Kusek-Lewis, 2013)

Can kids get restless leg syndrome?

Yes. Roughly 2% of 8- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. have symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome, and symptoms have been documented in kids as young as three.

Signs & Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

Parents should be cautious about jumping to conclusions, since just about every fidgety kid will regularly exhibit behaviors that could be misconstrued as RLS. (Can’t sit still? Fidgets at bedtime? This narrows it down to 99% of all kids.) Parents should also avoid asking a child about symptoms directly, since kids are highly suggestible and very well may begin “feeling” these sensations once you plant it in their head that they might be there.

That said, you might look for signs that suggest a child’s legs appear to be bothering them whenever sitting still for any length of time, such as excessive kicking under the covers or complaining that their legs can’t stay put, and that movement offers relief. Children with RLS often use imaginative descriptions for what they are feeling, such as saying they have “bubbles in my veins.” And they seem to struggle with initiating or maintaining sleep. “Parents often initially think that their child is just a bad sleeper because she stalls going to bed, complains that she can’t sleep and gets up repeatedly,” says Judith Owens, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (ibid, p. 134)

Treatment for children with restless leg syndrome

There are several things parents can do to help children moderate the symptoms of RLS. Most kids are treated with physical therapy exercises such as muscle-stretching massage. They may also be treated with iron supplements if it’s deemed their iron levels are too low. But since an iron overdose can be highly toxic, this should be done under an adult’s supervision and only at a pediatrician’s bequest.

It’s been found that regular exercise helps, as does yoga and stretching. These things can lower symptoms by 50% over the course of 6 weeks. Children should also avoid cough and cold medications, antihistamines, and antinausea drugs, as well as caffeine, which can make symptoms worse.