a leg with bugs crawling down it, descriptive of the feeling of restless leg syndrome

Oh, What a Feeling! The Sensations of Restless Legs Syndrome

Tiger beetles.

I think they win the prize for the best explanation of my restless legs syndrome (RLS). Moreso than any other description I’ve heard – so far. I can sense their long legs running aimlessly in circles around my lower limbs.

Fastest insects in the world

According to Britannica, there are about 2600 different species of tiger beetles. Which is about how many descriptions there are for the sensation of having bits of your body constantly squirming and ready for action. At 8 kilometres (5 miles) per hour, tiger beetles are the fastest moving insect for size-to-speed ratio. Which is kinda slow for even the dodgiest of cars, but for their size, they rank number one in the insect world. They’re so quick even their eyes can’t catch up.1

I’m no expert, but running at 120 body lengths (10-20-mm on average) per second is impressive. I’m 169cm (5’ 6”) so I’d be walking at around 730 kilometres (453 miles) per hour if I was a tiger beetle. I’d really need to keep my hair tied back.

Swarming down my legs

It’s an uneasy but apt correlation between my RLS and the insects. The swarm (is that a collective noun for tiger beetles?) runs around my lower back then heads down my left leg – running down the outside of my thigh before crossing over to my shin and ending at the ankle.

It’s almost always stronger on my left. The right side has a handful of tiger beetles doing a sprint, but not the flowing masses running a marathon down the left. The origins of the swarm are in my lower back – there’s a heaviness there that never eases, even when well controlled.

Short-term relief

If left unattended those beetles start treading on my nerve endings, sending waves of a burning ache down my shins. Their long little legs digging a deep, deep throb that surfaces in spasms.

To relieve the restless sensations there’s a compelling urge to move the offending limb and shake those invisible beetles away. But minutes later – or seconds if things are getting bad – they’re back and the need to move returns. This little cycle occurs 24/7. My husband tells me that even when asleep, I’m kicking my legs to relieve the tension.

I know they're still there

I am fortunate to have medications and therapies that manage my RLS extremely well. The growing insanity of endless movement is quelled for now. But despite that, the beetles are still there. They just run deep. I can’t feel them at the surface but their shadow is still there.

No matter where I am, no matter the time of day, my legs are jiggling along in a fast march. And by fast I mean tiger beetle supersonic fast. The reprieve comes in the evenings when I take my medication and – for a short period of time – a sense of relaxation envelops my aching back and legs.

The swarm travels north

There have been times – thankfully few and far between – when the swarm has headed north and marched down my arms. The sensation is the same but the need for jiggling relief more obvious and a lot more inconvenient. I am grateful my restless arms are an anomaly and not a regular occurrence.

How do you describe RLS?

There are countless descriptions of restless legs – creepy-crawly, like butterflies, cramps or aches. There are countless people with restless legs syndrome and all our experiences are individual. For me, the march of the tiger beetle swarm is the picture-perfect description.

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