The Link between Restless Leg Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

It has been described as a creepy crawly feeling and an overwhelming urge to move your legs.  Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that affects up to 10 percent of Americans.  Some experience only mild symptoms, but some feel so uncomfortable with RLS, it ruins their ability to sleep, sit still and eventually their overall health. 

According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Restless leg syndrome is 10 times more likely to affect people who have fibromyalgia than those who don't and may be one reason why they have trouble sleeping. 

According to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, RLS diagnosis is based on these four criteria:

  • A strong urge to move your legs, which you may not be able to resist. The need to move is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. Some words used to describe these sensations include: creeping, itching, pulling, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing.
  • RLS symptoms start or become worse when you are resting. The longer you are resting, the greater the chance the symptoms will occur and the more severe they are likely to be.
  • RLS symptoms get better when you move your legs. The relief can be complete or only partial but generally starts very soon after starting an activity. Relief persists as long as the motor activity continues.
  • RLS symptoms are worse in the evening, especially when you are lying down. Activities that bother you at night do not bother you during the day.

RLS appears frequently in patients with peripheral neuropathy, chronic kidney disease, anemia, Parkinson's disease and women who are pregnant.  Sleep and fibromyalgia experts say that RLS is also present in about one-third of fibromyalgia patients.

Scientists don't have an explanation for why RLS and fibromyalgia so often co-exist and there is no single test that pinpoints its' diagnosis.  There are, however, medications approved to treat Restless Leg Syndrome and these may help fibromyalgia patients get the rest they need.  Achieving good quality sleep is key to treating fibromyalgia symptoms and some scientists speculate poor sleep may even be responsible for the development of fibromyalgia in some patients.

Some RLS patients find the relief they need through exercise, improved nutrition, weight loss, stress management and treatment of other illnesses.  If your legs are keeping you up at night, especially if you have fibromyalgia, talk to your doctor about treatment options that might give you the rest you need.


National Fibromyalgia Foundation

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation

Arthritis Today

Restless Leg Syndrome Linked to Fibromyalgia

A study finds these two conditions commonly overlap.

By Jennifer Davis

Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine

High Prevalence of Restless Legs Syndrome among Patients with Fibromyalgia: A Controlled Cross-Sectional Study

Mari Viola-Saltzman, D.O.; Nathaniel F. Watson, M.D., M.S.; Andy Bogart, M.S.; Jack Goldberg, Ph.D. Dedra Buchwald, M.D.

1Department of Neurology, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL; 2Sleep Center, Departments of 3Neurology,4Epidemiology and 5Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; 6Group Health Center for Health Studies, Seattle, WA