Leg pain can range from mild to severe and the intensity of pain is felt more during night time. Pain can occur in any part of the leg. Several factors like trauma, medical condition like arthritis, and accidental injury and sports injury can cause leg pain. Leg pain develops when the underlying bones, tissues, muscles, joints or nerves get affected. Treatment for leg pain depends on the root cause of the problem and often it can be treated at home. Medical intervention is necessary when leg pain is severe or sudden.
Leg Pain Symptoms :
- The signs of leg pain can range from dull to sharp radiating pain.
- Pain can occur in any part of the leg depending on the medical condition or trauma.
- A person affected with osteoarthritis may describe leg pain as stiffness of joint and acute pain which is worse in the morning than during the daytime.
- Leg pain can cause tingling sensation or burning pain.
- Leg pain may or may not be accompanied with swelling/inflammation, redness and tenderness.
- Leg pain that occurs due to trauma can cause superficial bleeding which is common during sports injury.
Leg Pain Causes :
- Various factors can cause leg pain. Certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, fractures and injury of underlying organs can cause moderate to severe pain.
- Pain on the legs is felt when the nerves communicate the pain signal to the brain.
- Pain can be acute (short lived) or chronic (long term like arthritis).
- Severity of the pain can be rated from 1 to 10.
- In some cases cause of leg pain cannot be found and in many cases like that of sports injury cause can be identified and treated easily.
Based on the origin, leg pain can be broadly classified into 3 namely, vascular (blood related), neurological (nerves) and musculoskeletal (bones and muscles).
1. Musculoskeletal Pain – Arthritis can sometimes cause popping sound in your knee affecting the joint. Similarly, the muscles can get strained or ligament can get torn after a fall. This category of leg pain belongs to musculoskeletal pain. Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and often occurs above 50 years when the joint gets damaged.
2. Vascular Pain – Pain arising due to deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, infections, cellulitis and peripheral arterial disease belongs to this category. In this type blood vessels and arteries and veins are affected in any part of the leg.
3. Neurological Pain – Sometimes leg pain can occur when something goes wrong with the nervous system. Restless leg syndrome, legs twitching, neuropathy and sciatic nerve pain belongs to this kind.
4. Leg Cramps – Leg cramps are often acute and sudden lasting for few seconds to minutes. Often calf muscle at the lower leg suddenly tightens without any apparent cause going to a spasm. Leg cramps largely occur during nighttime and in elderly people. There can be 3-5 attacks of leg cramps in a week.
5. Peripheral Arterial Disease – Poor blood circulation can cause leg pain due to peripheral arterial disease. Normal blood flow to the leg muscles get interrupted leading to claudication. In severe cases it can cause death. Claudication can cause considerable pain in the buttocks, calves, thighs and severe cramps during exercise. And it can cause leg pain while climbing stairs.
6. Deep Vein Thrombosis – For some people, blood clotting can occur in the veins of the leg and sitting for hours together can be the reason for deep vein thrombosis. This can cause swelling and painful feeling on the leg and in many cases blood clot can resolve on its own. In severe cases it may have to be treated. Blood clot can move towards the lung causing pulmonary embolism. DVT can occur without any symptoms.
7. Shin Splints – Sports activities and intense running and jogging exercises can damage the muscles and tendons of the legs. Severe tenderness can occur in the muscles causing leg pain and bone pain.
8. Fractures – Fracture can occur due to accident or a fall. Fractures can be detected by severe swelling, pain and deformation in the affected area and it has to be treated early. Stress fracture can occur due to sports injury and repetitive pressure and stress.
9. Tendinitis – When the tendons of the popliteus gets injured it can lead to tendinitis and knee pain. This happens when you are running down the hill.
10. Sprain and Strain – Due to excessive stretching of muscles and tissues sprain can occur. Strain can occur due to trauma wherein the muscles get injured. This can cause acute pain in the thigh muscle and the intensity may vary from mild to severe. Overstretching of muscles and lack of flexibility during sports activity can cause sprains and strains.
11. Compartment Syndrome – When extreme pressure is applied on the muscles or tendons of the leg it results in severe inflammation and sometimes may lead to a fracture. This kind of acute swelling is known as compartment syndrome This can be either acute or long term. Blood supply is cut off in the affected muscles giving no oxygen supply and in severe cases it can cause death of tissues (necrosis). This condition has to be treated urgently and can cause severe pain and even paralysis.
12. Sciatic Nerve Pain – When pressure is applied on a particular nerve sciatic nerve which runs down the leg from the lower end of the spine to the foot, it can cause sciatic nerve pain. This often happens due to herniated disk or muscle spasm. This condition can change the walking style of the person causing long term losses.
Your doctor would first physically examine the affected leg and requests for imaging tests like X-ray, CT or MRI. MRI scan can detect problems in early stage providing accurate diagnosis.
Mild form of leg pain can be treated with home remedies.
- Painkiller medications can be taken for moderate pain until you visit your doctor.
- Leg cramps can be treated by practicing stretching and warm-up exercises.
- Hold your toe region and slightly pull it towards the body.
- If you have leg cramps, try walking around the heels.
- Do not overdo exercises and particularly if you have just started jogging or walking increase the time gradually.
- RICE can be the best treatment option for sports related injury and strain.
- Resting your legs completely can facilitate healing process and reduce swelling.
- Giving ice application can help in recovering from inflammation and pain. Wrap some ice cubes in a cloth and apply it on the affected portion of the leg for few minutes. This can improve blood flow and reduce swelling.
- Compression bandage can be applied on the affected leg.
- Keep your legs in elevated position (above the heart level) can reduce swelling. Place multiple pillows in the bed and keep your legs over it.
- Consult your doctor immediately if the pain does not reduce even after home remedies.
- In case of claudication urgent medical care is required to prevent an attack and other complications.
- Your doctor would have to identify the root cause of the pain before attempting to treat it.