Many people sometimes find themselves unconsciously moving or shaking their legs while sitting in a chair or at a desk or table. It may be nothing more than a bad habit, but that’s not always the case! Many things can cause leg shaking, from boredom to anxiety to neurological conditions.
Here’s what to look out for and some ideas for how you can stop shaking your legs.
Why Do People Shake Their Legs?
Some of the causes of leg shaking are nothing to worry about, while others may require the care of a doctor. Here are some of the things that may be causing your legs to shake and why.
Boredom can be your body's way of telling you that you aren't getting enough stimulation. Bouncing or shaking your legs can provide just enough stimulus to distract you from whatever boring situation you find yourself in and relieve some of the tension of sitting still.
Some people may unconsciously shake their legs while concentrating or trying to take in information while studying, writing, or working at a computer.
Nervous Energy And Anxiety
If you feel nervous about a meeting but need to appear composed and confident, your legs might shake as an outlet while the rest of your body appears professionally poised. Sometimes, leg shaking is also used as an acceptable outlet for anxiety. Screaming or melting down is usually socially unacceptable in a hospital waiting room, business meeting, or courtroom, but quietly moving your legs is not, thus making it a more subtle way to release anxiety.
It’s not entirely understood why repetitive movements like leg shaking help in these situations, but experts believe that You may shake your legs unintentionally as your body seeks to balance your emotions, especially if you happen to be neurodivergent. Some research suggests that adults with autism use repetitive motion to help manage uncertainty and anxiety in the same way.
In some cases, repetitive leg movements can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, like nerve or brain damage, or thyroid issues. For example, people with restless leg syndrome (RLS) feel an uncontrollable urge to move their legs to alleviate crawling, itching, aching, or other unpleasant feelings. Uncontrollable tremors or tics can also be a symptom of Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, nervous system disorders that impair a person's ability to consciously control their limbs and extremities.
Other Causes Of Shaking
If shaking your legs is an uncontrollable habit interfering with your quality of life, it may be time to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider. Numerous medical conditions can cause leg shakes. Some are quite serious and related to brain function, so seeking the correct treatment is critical.
If you have other symptoms, such as restlessness, trouble sleeping, leg wounds, or unexplained weight loss, seek help from a healthcare provider immediately. These symptoms, as well as muscle spasms, unusual tingling sensations, permanent trembling, or loss of key bodily functions, could indicate a medical emergency.
How to Stop Shaking Your Legs
If an underlying medical condition isn’t the cause of your leg shaking, you can try a few things to stop the unwanted movement.
Try A Different Type Of Stimulation
If you routinely find yourself moving your legs because you're bored, try incorporating new stimuli. Taking notes, doodling on a sheet of paper, chewing gum, or having a mint can help, and there is a myriad of small fidget toys available you can play with that can help you stay calm and still. If you're really stuck, a good old thumb-twiddling session can be a subtle way to release some energy or tension.
Address Your Emotions
If you shake your legs when you're anxious, ask yourself what you are anxious about so you can begin to train your body to act differently next time. Sometimes, identifying your triggers can be difficult and time-consuming. Working with a qualified counselor or therapist can help.
Make Sure You're Getting Enough Sleep
If you're not getting enough sleep, your body will naturally have less energy and motivation, leading to frustration, anxiety, and leg shaking. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep and see how you feel. It could stop your trembling leg.
Try Yoga Or Meditation
Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can help prevent repetitive movements by reducing stress and anxiety. Consider a brief 20-minute session to start off your day.
Therapy Can Help
If your tremors seem to be caused by anxiety or another mental health disorder you cannot control, consider talking to a therapist. The trained, licensed online counselors at BetterHelp can help you address your concerns and develop a plan to manage your anxiety and other emotions that may impact your leg shaking.
Online therapy at BetterHelp has many benefits. If you’re experiencing leg shaking due to anxiety, the thought of finding a qualified therapist on your own and then meeting face-to-face may be overwhelming. With online therapy, you can quickly match with a therapist and begin sessions from the comfort of home.
Plus, online therapy is just as effective as in-person treatment, with one study showing that people in online counseling not only had a significant improvement in depression and anxiety scores at 12 weeks but that these results were also sustained for at least six months.
"Gillian was very helpful in helping me work through my anxiety and gave me a bunch of great tips and techniques to help manage stress."
"Ari has been great. I like his logical approach to things and he has been able to teach me tangible things I can use every day to manage my anxiety. He gives me the time to speak about what is bothering me and never passes any judgment. Instead, through his wisdom, he can show me different perspectives and approach them with me very gently. I really appreciate this. I would highly recommend him to anyone ready to get the help they need."
Is leg shaking a form of anxiety?
In some cases, leg shaking may be a symptom of anxiety. When you’re experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, adrenaline and cortisol are released, triggering the fight or flight response. This nervous system response raises your heart rate, muscle tension, and energy level in anticipation of a perceived threat, which can cause many physical symptoms like:
- Leg shaking, trembling, or numbness
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Clammy skin or excessive sweating
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
You may get relief by practicing deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or mindfulness. If leg shaking is due to anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or pharmacotherapy may also help. For example, beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed to block the bonding of adrenaline to nerve cells, which can dampen the fight or flight response.
What does it mean when someone is shaking their legs?
Leg shaking can be caused by many things, including:
- Nervousness, restlessness, stress, or an anxiety disorder
- Restless leg syndrome, Tourette syndrome, multiple sclerosis, tardive dyskinesia, Parkinson’s disease, or essential tremor
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Nerve damage
- Deep focus on a task, which is especially common in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Caffeine or other stimulant drugs like amphetamines. In these instances, when a person stops using the substance, their symptoms will likely go away
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Some medications
In some cases, leg tapping or shaking may be done to release tension or to improve concentration. In other cases, leg shaking may indicate psychogenic tremors related to a psychiatric disorder, or an involuntary movement disorder. If you’re experiencing leg shaking, you may want to reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out underlying mental and physical conditions.
Is shaking legs a bad habit?
Oftentimes, leg shaking is done out of habit or boredom. In these cases, there is typically nothing physically “bad” about the practice. It can improve blood circulation while seated, and some people find that tapping their leg helps them focus. However, other people may find the practice irritating or distracting. In some cultures, shaking legs may be considered disrespectful.
If you develop tremors (involuntary muscle contraction) in your legs, you may wonder how to stop them. The following self-care strategies and medical treatments may help, though it’s not always possible to stop leg shaking:
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Discussing whether new medications or medication changes may relieve symptoms with your physician
- Treating underlying conditions, like hyperthyroidism
- Practicing progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises
- Scheduling routine massages
- Taking a warm bath
- Using heating pads
- Working with a talk therapist
- Surgical deep brain stimulation, which is typically only recommended if other options do not provide relief
In many cases, infrequent leg shaking is indicative of boredom, fatigue, concentration, stress, or a habit. However, it’s a good idea to see your doctor if you’re concerned about your symptoms or notice any of the following:
- Tremors that interfere with daily life, cause pain, or cause distress
- Worsening vision or seeing double
- Rapid unexplained weight change
- Nerve symptoms, like tingling or numbness
- Confusion or memory loss
- Slow movements
- Difficulty controlling bladder or bowels
Why do people shake legs while talking?
Many people shake their legs while talking. It may be caused by a variety of things, such as:
- A habit, similar to other fidgeting with your hands, tapping your toes, squeezing a stress ball, twirling your hair, or playing with a pen cap
- Coping mechanism for stress, nervousness, anticipation, anxiety (such as social anxiety disorder), or discomfort
- Deep concentration
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Muscle tension
Leg shaking can also be caused by physical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, Parkinson's disease, or essential tremor.
Why do I shake my legs while sitting?
Some of the most common reasons people shake their legs while seated include muscle tension, relieving built up energy, boredom, stress, or to improve concentration. If you’re concerned about your leg shaking, you should consider talking with your healthcare provider.
Why do I shake my legs to relax?
Many people use leg shaking as a coping mechanism, or to release built up muscle tension, energy, or boredom. For example, if you’re sitting through a lengthy meeting, you may bounce or shake your leg to stimulate the brain and improve attention (called “stimming”). Leg shaking can be used as it fidget, and it’s a common practice for self-soothing.
Why do I shake my leg when sitting with ADHD?
Many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) use “stimming” to help themselves focus and soothe symptoms. Things like leg shaking, chewing gum, lip biting, clicking a pen, twirling hair, humming a song, biting your nails, or tapping your foot can all be indicative of stimming (self-stimulatory behaviors).
These behaviors are done unconsciously, potentially to help pay attention, release built up tension and excitement, cope with overwhelming stimuli, and soothe nervousness and stress.
Stimming can help people manage their symptoms, and there’s usually nothing inherently wrong with engaging in these practices. However, other people may find them disruptive, and stimming practices can sometimes lead to self-consciousness or injuries.
Is leg shaking rude?
Some people may find leg shaking disruptive or bothersome. Peer reviewed studies, like this 2021 study of 4,100 participants, repeatedly find that around one-third of people are sensitive to repetitive movements (like leg shakinging or finger tapping). Misokinesia, or a strong negative response to visual repetitive triggers, is a medical condition that may be effectively treated with medications and talk therapy.
If you are concerned that your leg shaking is bothersome to others, you may want to try using a quiet fidget toy.
Why do I constantly shake?
There are many possible reasons for shaking. Common causes include medications, stress, anger, anxiety, overconsumption of caffeine, low blood sugar, and some physical conditions like essential tremor. Discuss your symptoms with your medical practitioner if you are concerned.
Is my leg shaking a fidget?
Common fidgets include leg shaking, tapping your foot, rocking back and forth, twirling your hair, or biting your fingernails. These small, repetitive movements can help release energy, improve concentration, relieve stress, decrease boredom, or interrupt discomfort. Many people engage in mild fidgeting, but it can sometimes be a sign of conditions like ADHD or restless leg syndrome. If your fidgeting is disruptive, uncomfortable, distressing, or otherwise concerning, consider visiting your doctor.
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