Can RLS Affect Your Arms?

Your skin crawls, you have trouble sleeping, and you’ve been told your legs make odd jerking movements when you’re at rest. It’s possible you’re experiencing early warning signs of a condition called restless legs syndrome, but something else has bothered you – similar pain and sensations in both of your arms.

What is RLS?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an ailment triggering an overpowering desire to move the legs, usually resulting from a painful sensation. It typically happens during the evening or nighttime when you’re seated or lying down. Movement can ease the unpleasant feeling but only temporarily.

Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, can sometimes affect the upper limbs, too. It disrupts sleep and daily activities.

Causes of RLS

According to some studies, restless legs syndrome has been identified as a genetic syndrome that can pass from a parent to a biological child. More than 90% of people with RLS have a biological relative with the condition. These patients are known to get symptoms early, before age 45, compared to someone with RLS without the genetic link.

Other potential causes include low iron levels, depression, and diabetes.

Risk Factors & Other Disorders

RLS can develop at any age, though it typically worsens with age and is more common in women than men. It sometimes is present in people with other conditions, including:

  • Peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the nerves in the feet and hands, sometimes triggered by diabetes and alcoholism.
  • Iron deficiency.
  • Kidney failure, which may accompany iron deficiency and anemia. Malfunctioning kidneys mean iron supplies in the blood may decrease. This can cause or worsen symptoms of RLS.
  • Spinal cord conditions, like lesions on the spinal cord due to damage or injury. Spinal block, where anesthesia is applied to the spinal cord, can increase the chance of RLS.
  • People diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease take particular medicine called dopaminergic agonists, which may increase the chance of developing RLS.
  • Periodic limb movement disorder is often paired with RLS. It’s known for leg muscles that contract and jerk dozens of times during sleep.

Can RLS Affect Other Body Parts?

People who report symptoms of restless legs syndrome in their legs have also been diagnosed with a related condition known as restless arm syndrome (RAS). According to a study by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH), “In RAS, the arms are predominantly affected with little or no involvement of the legs.” It’s worth noting that diagnosing RAS in patients with restless legs syndrome is complicated.

Another NIH study called RAS “very rare, with very few cases” recorded in contemporary research. Still, efforts to diagnose restless arm syndrome are lacking, particularly in cases of mild or transient forms of the condition.

In the few reported cases of RAS, the pain appears to be contained in either or both arms, from just below the elbow all the way to the fingertips. Like restless legs syndrome, temporary relief may be possible through arm movements.

Symptoms of either condition may be treated in several ways, including ketamine infusion therapy from a licensed specialty clinic. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if this is a good option for you.

For someone with restless arm syndrome, it’s not unusual to complain of any of the following sensations:

  •  The skin feels like it’s crawling or tingling
  •  Unplanned, jerky arm movements, often when trying to sleep or while resting
  • An uncontrollable desire to move the arms

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, strange sensations and jerky movements in the arms may be a precursor to, or even the first warning sign of, restless legs syndrome.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you think you have restless legs syndrome or sensations affecting your arms, see a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment options. In most cases, your medical professional will use criteria developed by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group:

  • You have a strong, often irresistible desire to move your legs, generally paired with uncomfortable sensations
  • Your symptoms begin or worsen during resting moments, like when you’re sitting or lying down
  • The symptoms are partly or momentarily relieved by motion like walking or stretching
  • Your symptoms worsen at night

Treatment from a Specialty Clinic is an Option

If you have RLS, your healthcare provider may recommend store-bought pain relievers, prescription medicine, exercise, or lifestyle changes to reduce the discomfort. Another option is ketamine infusion therapy from a specialty clinic, which may keep the symptoms at bay with continual treatment.