Exercise and Restless Legs Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Melissa McManama Aukerman, MS; Douglas Aukerman, MD; Max Bayard, MD; Fred Tudiver, MD; Lydia Thorp, MD; Beth Bailey, PhD


J Am Board Fam Med. 2006;19(5):487-493. 

In This Article


This is the first randomized controlled trial that we are aware of to examine the effectiveness of exercise in managing RLS symptoms. To date, nearly all treatment strategies for RLS have relied on pharmaceutical intervention. In this study, participation in aerobic and resistance exercise significantly reduced RLS symptom severity.

The improvement in RLS symptoms occurred as early as 6 weeks, similar to the time course of common pharmaceutical treatments,[12,22] and the reduction in RLS symptoms was maintained throughout the 3 month intervention period. Additionally, the improvement in RLS symptoms appeared to show a ceiling effect at 6 weeks, with no further significant improvement occurring. Again, this may be similar to pharmacological treatment, as in trials of pharmaceuticals for RLS, the response to treatment appears to be greatest at 6 to 12 weeks, with further treatment not providing additional reduction in symptoms.[22,23]

Future studies are needed to further address the effects of exercise on the symptoms of RLS. The current study results are promising, but larger studies are necessary before exercise is routinely prescribed for RLS. Medications have documented benefit for RLS in large studies and remain the primary therapy for moderate to severe RLS. No attempts were made in this study to differentiate between the effects of aerobic and resistance training in the benefit observed. Future studies should evaluate the effectiveness of different types of exercise. This study did not attempt to correlate the improvement in RLS symptoms with the quantity of time exercising. Furthermore, we did not control for medication usage, although there were no changes in medications throughout the trial. Notwithstanding these limitations, the results are promising, particularly considering the numerous other advantages known to be associated with aerobic and resistance exercises, particularly cardiovascular, metabolic, and musculoskeletal.

Weaknesses of this study include small sample size, high attrition, and obvious inability to blind participants to their assignment group. Strengths of the study include randomization of participants, concealment of allocation, analysis by intention to treat, and patient-oriented primary outcome.


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