The Relationship Between Chronic Back Pain and Restless Legs

Back Pain Oct 04, 2018

Several studies have been able to show a link between chronic back pain and restless legs. What is known for sure is that both restless leg syndrome and back pain make it hard to function properly in your daily lifestyle.

Because both make it hard to obtain a good night’s sleep, those in the medical profession agree it is an area that needs to be researched further. Lack of good sleep can reduce a person’s quality of life and can lead to negative symptoms both mentally and physically.

One of the first steps in learning about restless leg syndrome and its connection to chronic back pain is to gain a good understanding of each.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is diagnosed by a medical doctor or specialist. Through interviewing you and listening to your complaints, doctors will look for specific symptoms related to restless leg syndrome.

One symptom is the uncontrollable need to move, along with uncomfortable or painful feelings in your legs. Another symptom is that you feel this way while at rest. RLS lasts more than five to ten minutes and can usually be relieved by getting up and moving around.

There is no lab work to help diagnose RLS. Therefore, what you report to your doctor is crucial.

Why Restless Leg Syndrome is Hard to Diagnose

Because there are no tests established, RLS is sometimes confused with other ailments with similar symptoms. An example is sciatica, which has symptoms of pain in the lower back, the buttocks, legs and even feet and toes.

A recent study conducted on 46,000 people who report having restless leg syndrome found there are common gene mutations among them. These researchers claim RLS begins in the embryonic development of the nervous system. However, it does not show up, or it is not triggered, until adulthood.

Some researchers feel RLS is a result of another condition, while others feel they have a common cause or overlap in some way. Examples include neurological diseases such as: dopamine abnormalities in the brain, neuropathy, iron metabolism abnormalities, cortisol deficiencies, and kidney problems.

One thing that has been recognized is there is a direct connection to chronic back pain and RLS.

What is Chronic Back Pain?

Back pain is just that, pain in any area of your back. It can include pain in your lower back, spine, nerves or any other area connected to the back. What makes it chronic is that you have had this pain for longer than three months.

There are two other types of back pain: acute and neuropathic. Acute pain lasts for less than three months and is usually related to an injury or is situational and temporary. For example, labor pains.

Neuropathic pain is a version of chronic pain. Your original reason for the pain has disappeared, yet you still feel pain. This is likely due to nerve damage. Your nerves are still sending pain signals to your brain even though there is no observable injury or pain site.

Chronic back pain can be caused by many things, from injuries to deterioration of bones. Some of the more common causes include: arthritis of the spine, spinal stenosis, herniated or bulging discs, or muscle soreness.

Unfortunately, there are also cases in which people have back pain, but the source of the pain cannot be identified.

This does not mean you cannot find relief, however. In fact, there are many treatments available to ease symptoms of both chronic back pain and restless leg syndrome.

Treatments for Restless Legs and Chronic Back Pain

Both restless leg syndrome and chronic back pain can be treated with medication. However, this is rarely the first line of treatment by pain management specialists. Instead, a first action would be to rule out other potential causes for your RLS symptoms.

Another factor to review is your habits. Are you drinking too much caffeine, are you participating in sports that can further an injury, or are you using alcohol or drugs that have side effects?

Doctors will also measure the vitamin levels in your system. Being malnourished can contribute to health concerns such as RLS and pain.

Are you sedentary or getting a proper amount of exercise? Much research has shown the right exercise can ease symptoms of RLS. And stretching or yoga can ease symptoms of pain, as well as massage and acupuncture.

Physical therapy and lifestyle changes, including what you eat, can also help in treating your pain.

Once these steps have been taken, prescription medication or some form of injection or infusion, may be necessary. If so, you and your doctor will create an effective treatment plan to help alleviate your pain.

Finding Help for Chronic Back Pain and Restless Legs

First, know that you are not alone in your search for pain relief. According to the National Health Survey, over 20 million people in America are suffering from chronic pain, with many of them also struggling with RLS.

There is help there. But your family doctor is not the right medical professional to treat your chronic back pain symptoms or RLS symptoms. The only thing you need from your primary care physician is a referral to the best pain management clinic.

You want to work with a specialist in pain management. They have more experience and more access to pain management treatments.

Pain management specialists understand the wide range of pain disorders. They have extra training in the areas of diagnosis and individualized treatment of both RLS and chronic back pain. They recognize the connection between the two.

When searching for you pain management specialist, check for their additional training, such as a fellowship, they completed successfully. This extra training allows doctors to become certified in pain management.

Their certifications should come from one of four sources: The American Board of Anesthesiology, The American Board of Psychiatry, the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, or the American Board of Neurology.

Professionals with these certifications can help you get rid of your pain and get back to living.

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