Restless arms syndrome is a condition that causes abnormal sensations in the arm that force people to move their arms to find relief. The condition is considered a neurological one that affects the central nervous system.
People with restless arms syndrome often complain of having strange sensations in their arms, including a crawling or tingling sensation, an urge to move their arms, involuntary arm movements, and disrupted sleep.
The symptoms of restless arms can spread to other parts of the body too and aren’t common restless legs syndrome. Both conditions could be further lumped together under the name “restless limbs” as, while the condition mostly affects arms and legs, it can also affect hands, feet, and elbows.
Potential Restless Arms Causes
More often than not, the specific root cause of restless arms is unknown. There are several potential causes, including:
Genetics are believed to play a part in restless limbs syndrome as around half of all people who have the condition have some family history of it. The condition is an autosomal dominant condition, meaning that there is a 50% chance parents will pass it on to their children.
Dopamine is the chemical neurotransmitter that sends messages between the brain and nervous system. These messages help to stimulate and control body movements. Problems with dopamine levels can cause involuntary limb movements and muscle spasms.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Several medical conditions have been connected to restless arms and restless legs. These conditions include chronic kidney disease, Parkinson’s Disease, fibromyalgia, and vitamin 12 deficiency
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Anemia causes a reduction in red blood cells. This leads to a drop in the amount of available iron in the body. Iron deficiencies lead to dopamine deficiencies, which ultimately leads to problems with restless arms.
Around 40% of all pregnant women will develop some form of restless limb syndrome, whether it affects their arms, their legs, or all of their limbs. The symptoms are most likely to set in during the third trimester. Doctors are unsure as to the connection between pregnancy and restless arms, but the good news is that symptoms almost always subside within a few days of giving birth.
Restless Arms Treatment Options
Unfortunately, there is no definite cure for restless arms. There are restless arms treatment options, but treatments focus more on managing symptoms and reducing their severity and frequency. Treatment options also look to improve the quality of sleep. These treatments include:
Drugs that help to boost dopamine levels, known as dopaminergic agents, are an effective treatment for restless arms. These drugs are among the first treatment options used by doctors. Dopaminergic agents aren’t perfect however and should never be taken across the long-term. Long-term use actually makes symptoms worse instead of improving them. Keep in mind that some medications can make the problem worse. Choosing the right medication for restless arms also involves eliminating unnecessary medications or making adjustments to existing medications.
Supplements like iron, folate, and magnesium supplements can offer some relief from restless arms symptoms. Supplements will only work if you have existing low levels of these nutrients though, and may not be much help if you don’t. Talk to your doctor about supplements and if you really need them.
Good Sleep Hygiene
Practicing good sleep hygiene and having a sleeping pattern helps to control restless arms. Aim to get to bed and wake up at around the same time each day. Set aside an hour or two in the evening where you can wind down and relax ready for bed.
Another important thing to do is only use your bed for sleeping. You shouldn’t read, work, or use your phone and computer in bed. It helps to have the room at the right temperature for sleeping as symptoms can get worse when it gets hot. Symptoms will generally be at their worst when you are tired at the end of the day. Some patients say keeping a sleep diary helped them get control over their sleep and – with it – their condition.
Cut back on bad habits
Cutting back on alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco has been shown to help manage restless arms symptoms. At the very least you should avoid these substances in the evening, after 6PM.
Exercising regularly – but not excessively – and stretching before bed offers some relief for restless arms symptoms. Check out some good arm stretches to give yourself some ideas on what to do.
Moving your limbs can offer some relief from symptoms. The problem is that the symptoms tend to come back once you stop moving.
Arm massages are a great way to get relief as they make you more comfortable and relaxed and improve blood circulation in limbs.
Treating Underlying Conditions
If some other medical condition has contributed to the restless arm syndrome, treating the underlying condition can help to relieve symptoms.
Hot and Cold Treatments
Some people have found relief through applying heat – such as with a hot water bottle – or cold – such as ice – to their arms. Alternating between the two has also been effective. Just be sure that you practice any kind of hot and cold treatment safely. Don’t apply too much heat or ice and be sure to stop if your sensation feels altered.
Restless arms syndrome can affect anyone and different people will have different experiences with it. For some people, they could go weeks or months without symptoms, others will have problems every day. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you might have restless arms. They can make a proper diagnosis and offer the best treatment available to you.