While restless leg syndrome (also known as RLS) and plantar fasciitis can certainly occur at the same time, the evidence for a connection between the two conditions is somewhat elusive and mostly anecdotal–which makes sense, since RLS is a poorly understood and somewhat mysterious (but very real) condition itself.
If you suffer from either plantar fasciitis or restless leg symptoms, it can be helpful to understand the reported risk factors leading to the overlap of these two conditions, to help with early detection and intervention.
Plantar Fasciitis and Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is a condition that affects anywhere between 4 and 30 percent of the US population. The condition causes discomfort or a pins-and-needles sensation and the urge to move the lower legs during periods of inactivity, such as sitting or while lying in bed. Often, the condition gets worse at night and interferes with falling asleep.
Plantar fasciitis, on the other hand, is a condition that impacts the arch of the foot, or more specifically the plantar fascia, a ligament that connects your heels to your toes and helps absorb impact and distribute weight evenly while you walk or move. When this band of tissue becomes strained, inflamed, or overused, plantar fasciitis develops.
It’s worth noting that individuals with restless leg syndrome often experience other foot problems as well, including bunions–and plantar fasciitis.
While the cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, there is growing support for the theory that RLS is caused by problematic movement patterns, and stress and strain to myofascial trigger points, or muscle knots, in the skeletal muscles of the feet and legs. Some experts believe that the gait changes that often occur alongside plantar fasciitis (to compensate for the damaged fascia) can trigger restless leg syndrome.
Can You Experience Restless Leg Syndrome in the Feet?
While the name “Restless Leg Syndrome” implies that this condition is only felt in the legs, rare cases of RLS can cause movement in the feet or toes.
However, if your symptoms appear in the feet or toes (particularly if the movement is accompanied by pain), you may not have RLS at all. Instead, you may be suffering from a condition called Painful Leg and Moving Toes Syndrome (PLMT).
In PLMT, which researchers believe is closely connected to neuropathy or spinal trauma, sufferers experience movement in the feet, legs, and toes while resting. Unlike RLS, PLMT is characterized by pain (not just discomfort) either before or during the movement. This pain can be sharp, throbbing, burning, cramping, or tingling. Make sure to talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms, for an accurate diagnosis!
Leg Pain and Plantar Fasciitis
If you have plantar fasciitis and you’re dealing with leg pain that isn’t accompanied by movement, you’re not alone.
Gait abnormalities or tight and inflexible muscles in the calves, ankles, and thighs, can all contribute to leg pain that accompanies heel pain. For the most part, improving the alignment of the feet and legs, as well as massage and stretching to help muscles become stronger and more flexible (more on this below!) can significantly improve both your heel pain and your leg pain.
Remember: Your feet and heels don’t work in isolation. All of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the feet and legs work together to help you take every step. When the arch and heel are struggling, the legs often suffer — and vice versa!
Improving Alignment and Gait to Address Restless Leg Syndrome and Plantar Fasciitis
Some people have found that by improving their movement patterns and gait, their restless leg syndrome improves as well as the fascia and muscles in the legs and feet resume a proper position and heal.
Likewise, by taking steps to properly align and treat strained and damaged ligaments in the fascia, plantar fasciitis can be warded off or treated as well.
Make sure that you are wearing properly fitting shoes that support and cushion your arches, and aren’t too tight. Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that are tight in the toe box.
Wearing orthotic inserts with your favorite pair of shoes can offer a great deal of support and cushioning to a compromised arch, allowing you to walk normally without pain.
Since resting the legs and feet (an important part of healing plantar fasciitis) can be uncomfortable for individuals with restless leg syndrome, it’s especially important to take steps to properly support the ligaments and tissue of the feet.
Massage and Stretching for Restless Leg Syndrome and Plantar Fasciitis
Starting a regular routine of stretching and self-massage with a mobility ball, tennis ball, or even water bottle can strengthen and elongate tight and damaged muscles and ligaments in the feet and legs. Over time, these stretches and massage can break up adhesions, improve circulation, and support a proper gait and movement patterns.
Most cases of plantar fasciitis can be resolved at home using the treatments discussed above, including orthotics, stretching, and rest. And while treating restless leg syndrome can feel like guesswork, the good news is that many of the treatments that work for plantar fasciitis also seem to have a positive effect on restless leg syndrome.