Why Do People Experience Leg Shaking?

Updated October 6, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You probably know someone who shakes their legs or foot, or is constantly fidgeting or antsy. Sometimes it's an obvious, perpetual habit, while other times it's a subtle, situational tremor. Regardless, several completely natural reasons explain this behavior that’s more than voluntary movement.

While some may view leg shaking as obnoxious, most of the time the perpetrators hardly even recognize their legs shake. So why do people shake their legs? And can trembling legs be controlled? In this article, we'll explore the answers, as well as discuss underlying causes of this behavior and methods for help with it, like online therapy.

Are You Shaking Your Legs And Don't Know Why?

Why Do People Shake Their Legs?

Many of us have at some point found ourselves unconsciously moving our legs while we are sitting in a chair, at a desk, or in school. According to M. Farouk Radwan's article, "Shaking legs in body language," when you shake your legs, it means you're most likely bored, anxious, tense, or stressed. Leg shaking, or "tremors," can also be caused by stimulants, alternative medications, and certain medical conditions. Although some people might feel like these must be voluntary movements occurring just to annoy them–this isn’t the case! Here are a few reasons people might start unconsciously moving their legs:


Boredom is considered a negative stimulus. In other words, it's one of our body's ways of telling us we aren't being suitably stimulated by the present activity. Bouncing our legs can provide a small stimulus to distract us from the boredom, and relieve some of the tension of sitting still. While the shaking and leg movement can be distracting to others, it's probably preferable to alternatives like repeatedly clicking a pen or tapping your fingers. 


Moving our legs isn't always a sign of boredom. Some people do it while they're concentrating on a task or problem or trying to take information in. Some people move their leg while they study, write, or work at a computer. The jiggling can seem annoying to others, but can be really effective for the person doing it. Everyones brain is different, and sometimes people need to be moving some part of their body to concentrate. It's not completely clear why some use repetitive movements in a state of concentration. It may be that the mild stimulus gives restless parts of the brain enough stimulus to keep from interrupting the concentrated state of mind. Research and studies conducted on children with ADHD suggests they use repetitive motions in this manner.


Shaking your legs is sometimes done unintentionally as your body seeks to balance your emotions. Nerves can be a big factor behind anxiety, and shaking can be a relief, almost like dopamine. For instance, if you feel nervous about a meeting but need to appear composed and confident, your legs might shake as an outlet for your anxiety while the rest of your body appears professionally poised. Sometimes, tremors are the only acceptable outlet for dealing with both minor and severe anxiety. In a setting like a hospital waiting room or a courtroom, running, screaming, melting down, or another fight-or-flight response is socially unacceptable. However, merely moving our legs or tapping our feet is considered a subtle and reliable method to release anxiety.

Medical Conditions

In some cases, the movements goes beyond subconscious behavior and into a symptom of an underlying medical condition or damage, like nerve-damage or brain damage, or hyperthyroidism/ thyroid issues. People going through restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as restless legs syndrome, feel an uncontrollable urge to move their legs to alleviate crawling, itching, aching, or other unpleasant feelings. It can also be a symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD are especially likely to shake their legs or perform other repetitive motions while concentrating. However, uncontrollable tremors or tics can also be a symptom of Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis. Both are nervous system disorders, beyond just restless legs syndrome, that impair a person's ability to consciously control their limbs and extremities. Most of the time, however, people who shake their legs subconsciously are not experiencing any serious medical conditions.

See for Yourself

It may help you to better understand why people shake their legs if you take note of your emotions the next time you find yourself moving yours. What are you doing at the time? How are you feeling? You may uncover factors that contribute to your leg shaking. When you're able to recognize the cause, you may have more control over it when it happens.

How to Stop Shaking Your Legs

If other people's movements bothers you, don't waste your time trying to get them to stop. Since leg shaking is a highly subconscious action, asking someone to stop is likely to cause them embarrassment, irritation, or uncomfortable feelings. One exception might be a very close friend or a loved one who confides in you and explains they're trying their best to prevent it. In that case, feel free to pass on these stress management techniques to them to about restless legs syndrome (rls).

If your own leg shaking bothers you, there are a few solutions you can try. These actions require some simple foresight into situations where you might find yourself moving your legs. They may also require some practice in maintaining your thoughts and emotions, which can prove easier than what you may think. Finally, it might go a long way to ask yourself a few uncomfortable questions about your own emotional state.

Change Your Posture

While our posture can say a lot about our thoughts and emotions, changing our body language can help us alternate those internal states. Folding your legs at the ankles or crossing one at a right angle across the opposite knee is a contained posture, similar to folding your hands in your lap. Holding this posture while breathing mindfully can help you regain some inner poise. Don't worry about breathing exercises when you're in public-just make sure you're breathing deeply, and not too quickly.

Try Something New

If you routinely find yourself moving your legs because you're bored, search for new stimuli. Taking notes, doodling on a sheet of paper, or even writing a song/poem can be a fun pastime for some scenarios. In others, chewing a piece of gum or enjoying a mint can help take your mind off your boredom. There's a myriad of small fidget toys available you can play with under the table or unobtrusively in your hand that can help you stay calm and still. If you're really stuck, a good old thumb-twiddling session can help you release some of your energy without making things too obvious.

Address Your Emotions

If you shake your legs when you're anxious, ask yourself what you might be nervous about. What is it that makes you afraid? What's stressing you out the most right now? How do you act when you feel any of these emotions?

Once you've identified the triggers to your movements, you can begin to train your body to act differently when they occur. Sometimes this can be difficult and time-consuming, but it is possible. The key is to plan and practice ahead of time in non-stressful situations. Follow the tips above, and eventually, you'll be able to gain more control over your movements when you face strenuous circumstances.

Make Sure You're Getting Enough Sleep

If you're not getting enough sleep at night, your body is going to naturally feel an overall decrease in energy and motivation. This can lead to frustration and anxiety, which can ultimately lead to leg shaking. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep in your schedule and see how you feel afterward– it could cure your trembling leg.

Identify a Possible Nicotine Withdrawal

Have you recently quit smoking tobacco? If so, you're statistically more prone to uncontrollable shaking, most notably in your legs. Of course, by no means should you pick up the habit again. Quitting is always the right choice. Just be aware of the fact that your leg shaking could very well be a common symptom and uncontrollable urge of nicotine withdrawal. Give it time, and things will improve. However, keep in mind that other stimulant drugs, such as caffiene may also cause your shaky legs to keep on trembling long after you’ve quit nicotine. 


Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can help you prevent movements by reducing stress and anxiety. Consider a brief 20-minute session to start your day off, and the results will speak for themselves.

Are You Shaking Your Legs And Don't Know Why?

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. They can help you determine any underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed, such as an involuntary movement disorder. Your doctor can also help you figure out whether seeing a therapist or counselor would be helpful.

There are numerous medical conditions, including serious medical conditions, that can cause leg shakes and a related to person's brain function. If you have other symptoms such as restlessness, trouble sleeping, wounds on your legs, or unexplained weight loss, you should immediately seek help from a health care provider. Experiencing muscle spasms, unusual tingling sensations, permanent trembling, or loss of key bodily functions, could mean you are facing a medical emergency.

It’s also possible after being medically reviewed, your healthcare provider may diagnose another issue such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, alcohol withdrawal, or physiologic tremors. Physiologic tremors are normal and even the most healthy individuals have them.

Here are a few details on other conditions that your doctor may diagnose you with after you are medically reviewed:

Essential tremors cause involuntary shaking and muscle spasms, most often it is limited to your hands. This may cause a person to develop tremors when doing things, like tying their shoes. The unusual shaking caused by essential tremors is a type of neurological disorder, affecting a person’s nervous system. Essential tremors are different from Parkinson’s disease, even though both are conditions of your brain and nervous system and are very serious medical conditions that affect how your nervous system behaves.

Parkinson’s disease causes involuntary muscle contractions and muscle spasms. The unusual movements associated with Parkinson’s disease are just one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Slow movements, impared coordination and tremors are a few other symptoms those with Parkinson’s disease may face. On BetterHelp, you can find more medically reviewed articles on how to cope with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. 

Another serious cause of muscle spasms or tremor is a syndrome called tardive dyskinesia. Unlike Parkinson’s, tardive dyskinesia causes the uncontrollable urge to move due rather than difficulty moving. This causes more than just a tremor but other uncontrolled movements are common as well. A person with tardive dyskinesia may have other symptoms including uncontrollable grimacing, sticking out their tongue or jerking of their hands, feet or torso.

There are also causes of tremors that aren’t related to how your nervous system functions. For example, psychogenic tremors can be how your body responds to depression, PTSD, or other psychiatric disorders that cause a fight or flight response. That means your anxiety, mood, uncontrolled movements–they may all be related. You can learn more about how PTSD and other psychiatric disorders may be affecting your body in BetterHelp’s medically reviewed articles online.

Some pregnant women also develop tremors known as “labor shakes'' and alcohol withdrawal can cause sudden tremors too. Those with dementia develop tremors on occasion and uncontrolled blood glucose can also cause unusual movement. Regardless, if you experience trembling legs along with other symptoms, it is important to consider receiving prompt medical care.

BetterHelp Is Here for You

Additionally, if your tremors seems to be caused by anxiety or other mental health disorders you cannot control, you can decide to see a therapist or counselor. Seeking help from a therapist can play a critical role in treatment for everyone. Therapists offer advice and help create changes in your life. The number of people who experience leg shaking is large, so you are not in danger. Noticing the signs of having an anxious tremor can be really useful. Self-care is also really important for controlling your anxiety and can help you feel more content. Maybe even getting a massage for your muscles would be beneficial! If your symptoms were caused by alcohol withdrawal, a therapist may also help you in your journey to stay sober. The trained, licensed online counselors at BetterHelp can help you talk through your concerns and decide on any further steps to manage your anxiety and other emotions that are causing you to experience leg shaking. What gets discussed between you and your counselor stays between the two of you. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Gillian was very helpful in helping me work through my anxiety 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 approaches them with me very gently. I really appreciate this. I would highly recommend him to anyone ready to get the help they need."

Final Thoughts

You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed about something you can't control. Leg trembling is a common outlet if you're going through stress, anxiety, boredom, or all of the above. Luckily, with the right tools, you have everything you need to take the steps to gain control of your body. Take the first step today by being medically reviewed by a doctor or seeking mental health counseling from a licensed therapist. 

Below are some common questions related to this topic:

What does it mean if your leg is shaking?

Why do I shake my leg when sitting?

Does anxiety cause leg shaking?

Can anxiety cause leg shaking?

Is shaking legs good for health?

How do I get rid of anxiety tremors?

Can high blood pressure cause tremors?

What is shaking a symptom of?

Why do I randomly shake for a second?

Why do my legs feel shaky and weak?

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