Does Spinal Anesthesia Cause Restless Leg Syndrome?

In the past, it has been understandably concluded that spinal anesthesia might cause Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), or that existing RLS could be worsened by the use of it. But a recent HealthDay report suggests otherwise.

The previous assumptions may have stemmed from the cause and effect aspects of RLS and spinal anesthesia: RLS is a neurological condition resulting in deep-seated, jittery, burning, or crawling sensations deep within the leg, or a strong urge to move the legs around. The condition is thought to affect up to 10 percent of the population.

There are several factors thought to be probable causes and triggers of RLS, including nerve damage. Spinal anesthesia is a way to numb surgical patients from the lower abdomen on down through the legs, and involves placing medications directly into the spinal area. The desired effect is to block the transmission of nerve signals to and from the affected area, allowing the patient to be awake and avoid the complications of general anesthesia. One of the possible complications of spinal anesthesia is nerve damage.

Despite the apparent risks involving spinal anesthesia and RLS, it is now thought that there is no real correlation between the two.

Serena Gordon of HealthDay reported in November on a 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study compared people undergoing general anesthesia to those undergoing surgery with spinal anesthesia and found no difference in restless legs syndrome symptoms between the groups. This new study was conducted in response to a 2002 study, which suggested that spinal anesthesia caused temporary RLS (lasting about six weeks) following surgery.

The 2008 study involved 359 people who would soon be undergoing surgery, 32 of which noted having RLS symptoms in questionnaires prior to the study. During their surgery, 147 of these people had spinal anesthesia, and the remaining 212 had general anesthesia. Reporting back at one and four weeks after surgery, none of the volunteers indicated the development or increase of RLS symptoms.

"Restless legs syndrome arising after surgery probably has more to do with the surgery itself or with the forced immobilization in the hospital," said Dr. Thomas Crozier, associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Gottingen Medical School in Germany. "We think that it is important for people suffering from restless legs syndrome to know that there is, at worst, only a very small likelihood that spinal anesthesia, which is the best choice for a number of surgical procedures, will worsen their condition," he added.

People receiving spinal anesthesia may of course experience symptoms of RLS after surgery, but at this time there is no reason to assume a direct relationship between them. However, there is certainly a basis for further investigation.


Aurora Health Care,



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