If you ever had an unbearable sort of twisting of a leg muscle that was severe enough to get you out of a deep sleep and leaping to your feet, then you probably were experiencing nocturnal leg cramps also known as a charley horse vs. restless leg syndrome. This is similar and also usually occurs at bedtime or when you’re just relaxing in the late afternoon or evening, but the pain is a different sort of feeling.
Restless leg syndrome is what some describe as a sensation such as something crawling up your leg, an itch, pulling or tugging feeling to aching. In most instances, it usually isn’t as excruciating of a pain as leg cramps, but it definitely also will force you up from your bed or seat to walk.
Another difference of restless leg syndrome, otherwise known as Willis-Ekbom disease vs. leg cramps is that it is often harder to fall back to sleep after having a restless leg syndrome episode. The reason is because leg cramps take less time to work out from the muscle contractions compared to how much longer it takes to relieve that discomfort associated with restless leg syndrome.
Leg cramps are more a common problem women get as they age due to declining muscle mass, overexertion, sitting or standing too long to certain medications. On the other hand, restless leg syndrome is caused more by genetics than age. If you inherited this condition, it might surface before age 40. According to some researchers, the reason is how a section of the brain (the basal ganglia) handles dopamine that sends messages via the nervous system and brain for muscle movements that can cause the problem due to damage. The basis for why restless leg syndrome is worse at night is because dopamine levels are the lowest point in the evening.
Something else that both leg cramps and restless leg syndrome share is that certain medications can trigger it. For example, statin drugs for lowering cholesterol to ones such as diuretics, drugs to treat osteoporosis and asthma can stir it up. Believe it or not, medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants to overdoing caffeine can set off restless leg syndrome.
Walking, massage, heat or a hot bath can help soothe both varieties of these leg problems. When these issues keep occurring, then you should make an appointment with your doctor for a thorough evaluation.
This article is not meant to diagnose any medical condition. It is solely to provide some insight about why you might be experiencing these problems.