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Facts about Restless Leg Syndrome and Filing for Disability

How to prove you are disabled
and win disability benefits

1. Restless legs syndrome affects primarily the legs, causing discomfort and the urge to move when sitting or lying down. It is considered a spectrum condition, meaning that some people have symptoms that may be described as minor annoyance, while others experience great disability. The condition generally progresses and becomes worse with age.

2. Anyone at any age can experience restless legs syndrome, even children. However, the condition occurs more often in women than in men.

3. Symptoms of restless legs syndrome occur in the leg muscles, such as the calves and thighs. The feet and arms may also be affected. Sensations have been described as crawling, tingling, cramping, pulling, tense, uncomfortable, itchy, aching and burning, along with many others.

4. The urge to move is a primary symptom. This relieves the discomfort at least while in movement, sometimes temporarily afterward. Symptoms may go into remission, disappearing for periods of time then reappearing again.

5. The symptoms usually get worse in the evening and are less noticeable during the day. Aside from discomfort, this also causes sleeping problems which is typically the biggest complication of the condition.

6. Restless legs syndrome may occur with periodic limb movements of sleep, a condition that causes flexing and extending of leg muscles while sleeping. In severe cases these movement may occur while awake. In many cases, patients are not aware of the muscle movement and do not even experience sleep disruption.

7. Medications commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease can be helpful for those with restless legs syndrome, because they limit chemical messages in the brain to reduce leg motion. Some epilepsy medications may also help with treating restless legs syndrome.

8. Muscle relaxants and sleep medications help treat the sleep problems caused by restless legs, but they do not stop the sensations.

9. Effective medications and the right combination of medicines will vary by individual. Doctors will help find the best individualized treatment through trial and error.

Can you qualify for disability benefits with this condition?

Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records. This includes whatever statements may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis).

It will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).

Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?

Speaking as a former Disability Claims Examiner, I can state that there are several reasons:

1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant and his or her disability attorney will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge;

2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. At the hearing level, of course, this is exactly what happens. And a number of disability representatives will also take such steps even earlier, at the reconsideration appeal level;

3) Disability judges, unlike disability examiners who decides cases at the first two levels of the system, can make independent decisions without being overturned by immediate supervisors--which happens frequently.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions

Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The Disability Decision Process and What gets taken into Consideration | Getting Denied for Disability Benefits | Questions about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | Social Security Disability Hearings | Social Security Medical Examinations | Social Security SSI Doctors | Social Security Disability Representation | Social Security Disability SSI Reviews