Restless Arm Syndrome

Facts about Restless Arm Syndrome

            A well known affliction that most commonly affects the legs has also been reported in different parts of the body:  restless arm syndrome.  As sufferers can attest, the sensation caused by the disorder is just as uncomfortable in the arms as it is in the legs.


            The syndrome causing restless limbs was first described in 1672 by Sir Thomas Willis, an early physician.  He wrote:

Wherefore to some, when being a Bed they betake themselves to sleep, presently in the Arms and Legs Leapings and Contractions to the Tendons, and so great a Restlessness and Tossing of their Members ensue, that the diseased are no more able to sleep, than if they were in a Place of the greatest Torture. “

            An apt and vivid description of the ailment that has remained all but a mystery until recent years, the discomfort felt is often beyond recall.  Just as there is no real known cause for restless leg syndrome, the same is true when the ailment affects the arms.

            The sensation is described as a creepy, crawly, jittery and generally highly uncomfortable feeling when the body is at rest.  Nighttime is a particularly heightened time for the disorder to appear, although any period of inactivity is likely to experience the same.


            Millions of people across the world suffer from restless leg syndrome, which is the most common form of this disorder.  It is a neurological condition in which the sufferer feels an inexplicable need to move the affected limb; an urge that can be impossible to resist.  The arms are also highly susceptible to these same symptoms.  Once the limb is moved, the individual feels immediate relief, although it may be only partial relief.  The relief is felt more as activity is increased, and the symptoms will remain absent for as long as the limb is being moved.  When the individual attempts again to rest, the tingly feeling begins to return.

            Sleep is greatly affected, therefore, by disorders such as restless arm syndrome.  The sufferer can be so distracted and bothered by the unusual sensations felt that sleep eludes them for some time after retiring.  Another affliction that affects those who experience restless limbs is called PLMS, or periodic limb movements of sleep.  While it has a long name, it involves short jerks of the body that occur on an irregular basis every 30 seconds or so; also disrupting sleep patterns.  It is not uncommon for people who suffer from restless body syndromes to also suffer from other ailments that are directly related to sleep deprivation.

            The best method of determining whether or not a patient has one of the restless limb disorders is by fully communicating the symptoms, sensations and durations with one’s medical doctor.  By examining the medical history of the patient, conducting a full physical and talking in detail with the patient, the doctor will be able to rule out other conditions that are known to create similar effects.  Blood tests may be ordered to determine levels of iron in the blood.  A sleep study may also be in order so that the patient’s actual movements through the night can be recorded.  At this time, there is no definitive method, no exact testing that can clearly conclude a patient has restless arm syndrome.

            There are methods of dealing with this disorder.  Trying a vitamin regimen, adopting a regular exercise schedule, adjusting dietary and alcoholic measures and stretching can bring relief to many.  Some have found medications to help.  There is ongoing research to attempt to find a cause and a means to alleviate the symptoms that afflict so many people, but until a cure or a means of controlling the disorder is found, each individual must search for a way to relieve their own symptoms.