Does Your Child Have Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome In Children

Juvenile onset restless leg syndrome (RLS) can be very difficult on both children and their families.

What To Look for With Childhood RLS

While suffering with RLS is bad enough, secondary repercussions from lack of adequate sleep can be especially damaging to children. Uncontrolled, suffering from RLS as a child can lead to various social development problems. These complications include:

-daytime drowsiness
-poor scholastic performance
-abnormal social behavior

Since many of these are common symptoms of other conditions or psychiatric disease, medical professionals frequently misdiagnose childhood restless leg syndrome as other illnesses, the most common of which is attention-deficit hyperactivity/disorder (ADHD).

Diagnosing Restless Legs In Kids

Restless legs syndrome in kids is believed to be under-diagnosed. In other words, it’s frequently overlooked, dismissed, or diagnosed as simply ‘growing pains’ that will fade with time. Sadly, there is no diagnostic test that can be given to confirm the presence of RLS. An exact diagnosis relies solely on the patient’s ability to accurately describe to the physician what it is they is feeling, and the physician’s ability to identify the signs of restless legs.

According to the National Institute of Health children frequently use the following words when describing the sensations associated with restless legs syndrome:

Common Wording Minors Use To Describe RLS.

-creepy crawlies
-pulling apart
-energy in legs
-pains aches

Problems Recognizing RLS In Children

As pointed out earlier, a concrete identification of restless leg syndrome in your child is difficult to make. Below are some of the more popular diseases which can be confused with RLS in your child:

Growing Pains

Growing pains are defined as, “Ill-defined limb discomforts in children that do not meet criteria for other diagnoses, like arthritis, other bone and joint pathology, peripheral neuropathy, and radiculopathy.”

While growing pains are very comparable to RLS in that they often strike at night, they are different in that shifting ones legs doesn’t usually bring any apparent relief to the feelings. Growing pains are often associated with throbbing pains in the calf, thigh or behind the knee, and an anti-inflammatory like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen will usually offer relief to your suffering child.

Motor Tics

Common muscle tics include blinking, twitches in the face, shrugging, or leg jerking. Tics are believed to be a genetic neurological disorder in children and commonly fade by the time your child reaches maturity.


Children suffering from PLMD will have fragmented and impaired quality of sleep. The symptoms will seem similar to those that your child might have if they suffer from restless legs.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity/Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADHD suffer from RLS and PMLD more often, and all tend to respond to drugs designed to boost dopamine production in the brain. ADHD is frequently overdiagnosed, and if your child is suspected to be suffering from ADHD it may be a good idea to have them evaluated for RLS or PLMD by a specialist or pediatric neurologist.


Like RLS, Akathisia consists of a sensation of inner restlessness followed by an urge to move. It is unlike from RLS in that it is typically a drug induced adverse side effect of anti-psychotic drugs and does not present more frequently at night.

Leg Cramps

Unlike RLS, leg cramps are typically considered to be very painful and usually focus on one muscle group like the calf, hamstring and quadricep. Like RLS leg cramps can commonly occur at night.

Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease

Children are typically early teen to pre-teen when the disease is first noted. If you suspect your child is suffering from Osgood Schlatter’s over the counter anti-inflammatory medications should relieve their suffering temporarily.

Chondromalacia Patella

Unlike RLS, pain is focused at the joint of the knee and movement is what causes the pain, not relieves it. Some physical therapy can strengthen the area around the knee. Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs can give your child relief in the meantime.


Arthralgias will cause your child to suffer from swelling and tenderness at the affected joint and the will likely be much more severe than a child suffering from restless legs

Treatments For Your Boy or Girl

There are no FDA approved drugs for the treatment of children with restless legs. This is in part because there have been no randomized, placebo controlled trials administered to children who suffer from this disease to rule out adverse side effects.

If your little one is confirmed to be suffering from RLS, the safest, and most effective restless legs syndrome treatment is to follow healthy lifestyle habits that thwart RLS attacks. Follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid processed sugars and caffeine in your child’s diet, get your child plenty of exercise and make sure your child gets a diet abundant in iron and anti oxidants.

Does Your Child Have Restless Leg Syndrome?