About three years ago, not limited to, but particularly after a long run on the weekend, I began noticing an uneasy feeling of twitching/muscle spasms in my legs that regularly occurred immediately after I'd gone to bed at night, just before nodding off to sleep. I wouldn't necessarily describe the sensation as "painful", but most definitely uncomfortable enough that it's caused insomnia on several occasions. It's basically a tense, gripping, creeping or "tickling" feeling in my legs that triggers involuntary flexing and movement of the leg muscles. Most often it simply prevents me from falling asleep at night, but at it's worst, it wakes me up and keeps me awake for extended periods. Thinking back over my life, there were times as a child I felt the same thing. And lately regardless of my running activity, I seem to be experiencing it almost daily.
The condition is Willis-Ekbom Disease, or more commonly known as Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Now before you laugh or scoff, which many people have done regarding this condition over the years, know that it's a neurological condition that affects the part of the brain that sends signals to the legs. And there's now more research than ever going into it. The disorder affects as much as 10% of the population, but to this point, doctors haven't learned a lot about it. After my extensive (internet) research, I've found there are several theories on this condition, but nothing conclusive. The most prevalent is that it's hereditary, and/or related to anemia and iron deficiency, and possibly kidney failure. But something that really captured my attention is the potential relationship between RLS and Parkinson's Disease (PD). There is considerable evidence that RLS and PD might be related since many PD patients experience RLS type symptoms. Additionally, both disorders involve a problem with the basal ganglia’s dopamine pathways, which are responsible for muscle activity messaging. However, some in the medical community dispute the notion of the relationship.
As far as the discomfort, I don't want to overstate it. It's not debilitating by any means, and at this point is really more of an inconvenience than anything. It's most noticeable at night when my body relaxes, and thus, is often diagnosed as a sleeping disorder. However, I've often experienced it when my legs have been inactive for a long period of time, such as car rides, or movie theaters. Michael will tell you that I often have to stand up and leave a movie theater to relieve the RLS. It's not noticeable when standing or walking, only when sedentary. Also, when my body is exhausted - especially from running - I notice the RLS levels seem to intensify.
There are also some dietary triggers for RLS that I've learned to manage. I've noticed a huge correlation between increased discomfort and sugar consumption. Regardless of the time of day, if I eat something overly sugary, like a donut or candy, about 30 minutes after consumption, I experience intense RLS. But it can also be triggered with high carbohydrate wheat products like pizza dough or bread. After about an hour of consuming simple carbohydrates like these and others, I experience RLS. Caffeine is a trigger for some, but I really haven't noticed that relationship. Additionally, some medication such as seasonal allergy antihistamines result in RLS for some, but I haven't noticed that either.
As far as a treatment, there are drugs available for it such as dopaminergic agents and opiates, but I most likely will never take those. There's just too many other natural options available. For example, as my marathon training has increased and my legs have been more and more fatigued in the evenings, I've been able to manage it somewhat by wearing compression tights to bed. Yes, Michael finds them incredibly sexy. By incredibly sexy, I mean ... not at all. But the compression on my legs seems to ease the discomfort which allows me to relax and doze off. When I wake up in the morning, the RLS is always gone, compression tights or not.
So that's my daily "battle" - and it's not a big deal. I'm absolutely the OPPOSITE of a hypochondriac and not worried at all about it. I just thought it was an interesting topic for a blog post. It's obviously not cancer, or heart disease, or liver failure, or anything physically life changing that a lot of folks have to burden, but it's definitely impacting my life and something I'll look into a little more. But if this is the worst of what I ever have to deal with physically, I'll have lived a blessed life. Fortunately, I've found lifestyle and dietary choices, and minor treatments that mitigate the discomfort. But at this point, there's enough red flags to garner more research from the medical community ... and me too. So, I'll keep you posted.
... Be Great Today!