Why Do People Shake Their Legs?

By Mason Komay|Updated April 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Christy Booze, LCSW

You probably know someone who shakes their legs. Sometimes it's an obvious, perpetual habit, while other times it's a subtle, situational tremor. Regardless, several completely natural reasons explain this behavior.

While some may view leg shaking as obnoxious, most of the time the perpetrators hardly even recognize they're doing it. So why do people shake their legs? And can it be controlled? In this article, we'll explore the answers.

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 shaking our legs. 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 and certain medical conditions.

Boredom

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. Shaking or bouncing our legs can provide a small stimulus to distract us from the boredom, and relieve some of the tension of sitting still. While leg shaking can be distracting to others, it's probably preferable to alternatives like repeatedly clicking a pen or tapping your fingers.

Concentration

Shaking our legs isn't always a sign of boredom. Some people do it while they're concentrating on a task or problem. 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 conducted on children with ADHD suggests they use repetitive motions in this manner.

Anxiety

Shaking your legs is sometimes done unintentionally as your body seeks to balance your emotions. 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, leg shaking is 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, or otherwise melting down is socially unacceptable. However, merely shaking our legs or tapping our feet is considered a subtle and reliable method to release anxiety.

Medical Conditions

In some cases, leg shaking goes beyond subconscious behavior and into a symptom of an underlying medical condition. People suffering from restless leg syndrome (RLS) feel an uncontrollable urge to move their legs to alleviate crawling, itching, aching, or other unpleasant feelings. Leg shaking 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 can also be a symptom of Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis. Both are nervous system disorders 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 suffering from 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 shaking 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 leg shaking 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 or irritation. 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 this information to them.

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 shaking 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 leg 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 shaking 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 leg shaking, 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 leg 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.

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 of nicotine withdrawal. Give it time, and things will improve.

Yoga/Meditation

Relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can help you prevent leg shaking 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?

BetterHelp Is Here for You

If shaking your legs is an uncontrollable habit interfering with your quality of life, it may be time to check in with your doctor. They can help you determine any underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed. Your doctor can also help you figure out whether seeing a therapist or counselor would be helpful.

Additionally, if your leg shaking seems to be caused by anxiety you cannot control, you can decide to see a therapist or counselor. 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. What gets discussed between you and your counselor stays between the two of you. Everything is completely discreet and private. 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 shaking is a common outlet if you're suffering from 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.

 

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