An x-ray of legs with bugs crawling on the bones

What a Sensation! The Differences in the Sensory Symptoms of RLS

Last updated: January 2023

For people suffering from restless legs syndrome, trying to describe the sensations that they feel can be a difficult task. Other than an urge to move, there seems to be quite a variety of sensory symptoms.

Burning, tugging, pulling, electrical-like shocks, creeping, and pain are just a few ways people describe their RLS symptoms.

Are we using different words to describe the same thing?

Although there are some obvious differences between a number of these, I wonder if some of us just use different words to describe the same feeling. Is someone else's "pulling" or "tugging" actually the same sensation as my "creepy crawling," and we're just interpreting it differently? Or are we talking about completely different things? Until we can swap legs for a day, we'll likely never know.

Explaing RLS to a non-RLS sufferer

I often find myself using the word "imagine" when trying to explain what I am feeling in my legs to a non-RLS sufferer.

"Imagine there are thousands of bugs crawling and gnawing on and inside your bones."

Of course, I don't know what that would actually feel like, but it's how I imagine it would feel. Even though the urge to move is well controlled by medication for me, the creepy crawlies are always there, albeit ever so slight.

The feelings are always there

Not enough to stop me from falling asleep, though still enough to affect my quality of life. But why does a medication work well to relieve one symptom of a condition but not another symptom of the same condition? Is combination therapy a possible answer? Would I want to risk the success I'm having with this medication by adding another? These are all questions I ask myself. Truthfully, the fear of the unknown stops me from seeking relief from all of my symptoms.

Do sensory stimuli help or hinder RLS symptoms?

A few small studies I have read focused on sensory stimuli to treat RLS symptoms, though larger and more in-depth studies are needed. Some people report some relief from external stimuli like vibrating machines or electrical impulse machines.

For some, concentrating on difficult tasks can abate or stave off symptoms. This may be why driving a car as opposed to being a passenger might result in a much more pleasant trip.

Many of us also find temporary relief from a hot or cold shower or bath. Tight clothing, a pet on the lap, and certain types of bedding are all things I've seen people mention worsen their RLS symptoms. And while I'm sure we've all found certain sensory stimuli that seem to help or hinder our symptoms, no one type of stimuli seems to do the same for everyone.

The devil you know

Seeing how other RLS sufferers describe the sensations they experience, I'm reminded of this quote by Regina Brett, "If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back."

That is definitely true for me. It's the devil you know. Even though the sensations we feel may be unique to each of us, I still feel a great comradery with all of my fellow RLS sufferers. I'm always hopeful that new research will give us more answers and solutions.

Please share how you describe your sensory symptoms of RLS.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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