Here's Why You're Always Shaking Your Leg

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You’re working at your desk, probably on your fifth Zoom call and second iced coffee of the day, when you realize you haven’t stopped shaking your leg for the past hour. Maybe you don’t even notice this subconscious movement until your roommate or coworker points it out. Though the leg bounce is subtle, it can be distracting and disruptive to your productivity. So why exactly are you always subconsciously shaking your leg? POPSUGAR spoke with three experts about what can be causing this constant urge to shake your leg and what to do about it.

Is Shaking Your Leg a Sign of Anxiety?

There are a variety of reasons as to why you might engage in frequent leg shaking. According to John Winkelman, MD, PhD, the chief of the Sleep Disorders Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, the most common cause among young people is anxiety. Dr. Winkelman explains that anxiety produces an overall psychological arousal, with increased heart rate and blood pressure, and with it comes an increased feeling of wanting or needing to move. “When the sympathetic nervous system gets stimulated, there’s a fight-or-flight response, which is part of this arousal,” Dr. Winkelman tells POPSUGAR.

While many struggle with the anxious habit of bouncing their leg up and down, it is nothing more than a habit, explains Debra Wilson, PhD, MSN, an Austin Peay State University School of Nursing professor. “There are ways to stop the habit, and when it is pointed out to someone, they can voluntarily stop until they forget and start doing it again,” Dr. Wilson says.

Could Leg Shaking Be Tied to Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, differs from a habit as it is an uncontrollable urge to move your leg. Some describe the sensation as a crawling, pulling, or aching of the legs that stops for a brief time through leg movement, Dr. Wilson says. In severe cases, individuals might have to get up and walk for hours at a time in the middle of the night, says Brian Koo, MD, an associate professor of neurology at Yale University. Though restless legs syndrome is not life-threatening, it can be extremely bothersome and lead to unhealthy sleeping patterns, which can contribute to other health issues.

According to Dr. Koo, RLS occurs in various frequencies in about 10 to 15 percent of the population, and to a clinically significant degree, meaning at least twice a week, in about two percent of the population. It typically affects women in a two-to-one ratio to men and can especially affect pregnant women, he says. RLS is more common in individuals who are older, but its age of onset is often late 20s to 30s, Dr. Koo tells POPSUGAR.

Are There Other Reasons Your Legs Might Shake?

If you tend to have sudden, involuntary leg shaking right before you fall asleep, you may be experiencing a tremor. Tremors are more common than RLS, particularly in older individuals and those with Parkinson’s disease. While RLS is a strong urge, and leg shaking due to anxiety is generally more habitual, tremors are completely involuntary movements. Dr. Winkelman explains that many individuals experience frequent tremors due to stimulants, such as caffeine.

How Can I Stop Shaking My Leg?

You may have identified the cause of your ever-shaking leg, but what’s next? First, it’s important to speak with your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions such as iron deficiency, advises Dr. Wilson. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medications to increase dopamine in the brain and reduce symptoms, she says. Additionally, practicing activities to reduce anxiety, such as exercising and meditating, can help tremendously. Finally, limit stimulant consumption. Yes, that means your alcohol and caffeine intake (espresso martinis, begone!). The next time your friends point out your jittery leg bounce, keep track of your experience to help discern whether it’s a medical concern or just a pesky habit.

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