Leg pain: 6 common causes and what to do


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Leg pain can be due to several causes such as poor blood circulation, sciatica, excessive physical exertion or neuropathy. It is therefore important to identify the real cause and one should also take note of the exact place where the pain is felt, as well as whether the pain has affected both legs or one of them. It is ideal to also note whether the pain worsens or improves with rest.

Usually, leg pain that does not go away with rest is a sign of circulation problems such as, peripheral vascular disease. While leg pain that is only felt upon getting up may be a sign of night cramp or lack of blood circulation. On the other hand, pain in the legs and back may be symptoms of spinal problems or compression of the sciatic nerve.

Some of the main causes of leg pain are:

1. Changes in muscle or tendons

Pain in the muscles of the legs is experineced when leg does not follow the path pf tthe nerves and it usually worsens when moving the legs. Some conditions that may cause the pain include myositis, tenosyllitis, thigh abscess and fibromyalgia. Muscle pain can also arise after sudden physical exertion, due to activities such as practicing intense exercises or when wearing uncomfortable shoes. During such cases, the pain uaually arises at the end of the day and is often felt as ”fatigue in the legs”. Another common cause of pain in the muscles of the legs is cramps that normally occur during the night and they are mainly common during pregnancy.

Pain in the leg potato region can also be a sign of compartment syndrome which results in severe leg pain that is accompanied by swelling. It arises 5 to 10 minutes after starting a physical activity and the region usually remains sore for long periods. Pain in the anterior region of the leg can also be due to anterior tibial tendinitis. This is a condition that occurs in athletes and people who practice very intense physical activities such as long distance runners.

What to do: Take a warm bath then lie down with your legs elevated as this will facilitate blood circulation hence reducing any form of fatigue. It is also important to take a rest but not necessarily absolute rest. It is advisable to avoid training and doing intense activity. For the case of tendinitis, ice and anti-inflammatory ointments can be used to aid in faster healing.

2. Joint problems

Joint problems are mostly experienced by elderly people and the leg pain might be related to orthopaedic problems such as arthritis or arthrosis. In such cases other symptoms that will also be present include joint pain and stiffness especially during the first 15 minutes of waking up. The pain may not be experienced every day but it tends to worsen when doing activities that require a lot of energy, and it reduces when rest is taken. Deformity of the knee may be a sign of arthritis. However, knee pain may also be felt after falling, having hip disease or the difference in leg length.

What to do: For joint problems, apply a hot compress on the affected joint be it the knee or ankle, for about 15 minutes. In addition it is also recommended to consult with an orthopaedist because it may be necessary to take anti-inflammatory drugs or undergo physiotherapy.

3. Spinal changes

Whenever leg pain worsens with spinal movement, it may be a sign of vertebral injuries. Sustheris of the vertebral canal can result in moderate or severe pain accompanied by the feeing of heaves or cramps in the lumbar region, buttocks, thighs and legs especially when walking. In this case, one will only be relieved from the pain when they are seated or tilting the trunk forwards. A feeling of numbness may also be felt. Spondylolisthesis is also another possible cause of back pain and it radiates to the legs, resulting to a feeling of heaviness in the lumbar region. The pain is felt mostly when walking and it relieves when taking a rest. Disc herniation is also another cause of back pain and it radiates to the legs. The pain can be acute, intense and it can radiate to the glutes, posterior leg, leg and ankle lateral as well as the foot plant.

What to do: In case of such pain, it is advisable to put a warm compress on the site of the pain to relive the symptoms. The doctor may also recommend the performance of physiotherapy.

4. Sciatica

Leg pain caused by changes in the sciatic nerve, the person may experience pain in the back, buttocks and the back of the thigh. It may also cause a tingling sensation or weakness in the legs. The pain can be excruciating, in the form of a twinge or shock that will suddenly be concentrated at the bottom of the back and it also radiates to the legs, affecting the buttocks, the back of the thigh, the lateral part of the leg, ankle as well as the foot.

The following symptoms are usually experienced when having pain caused by changes in the sciatic nerve:

1. Tingling pain, numbness or shock to the spine, gluteus, leg or plant of the foot

2. Burning sensation, a feeling of hooked or tired leg

3. Weakness in one or both legs

4. Pain that worsens when standing still for too long

5. Difficulty walking or staying in the same position for a long time

What to do: Place a warm compress at the site where the pain is felt, letting it rest there for about 20 minutes. You should also avoid doing activities that require a lot of effort like lifting heavy objects. In some cases, it may be necessary to undergo physiotherapy.

5. Poor blood circulation

Leg pain caused by poor circulation of blood affects mainly the elderly people and it can arise any time of the day but it worsens after spending a lot of time sitting or standing in the same position. The feet and ankles may also become swollen and they will portray a purple tinge, indicating that blood has difficulty returning back to the heart.

A slightly more serious situation that is caused by poor blood circulation is thrombosis. This happens when a small clot disrupts the flow of blood to the legs. In such a case, the pain will be more localized in the calf and there will be difficulty moving the feet. This is a situation that often happens after undergoing a particular surgery or when using contraceptives without any medical advice.

What to do: It is advisable to lie on your stomach with your legs elevated for at least 30 minutes. The doctor may also prescribe remedies that will improve blood circulation as well as the use of elastic compression stockings. Nevertheless, in case of suspected thrombosis, one should immediately go to the hospital for further check up.

6. Growth pain

Leg pain experienced by children or adolescents can be due to rapid bone growth. It usually happens between 3 to 10 years of age and is not a cause for alarm. The location of the pain is usually close to the knee but it can affect the entire leg, reaching the ankle. It is common for ta child with this type of pan to complain mostly at night before going to sleep or after doing an intense physical activity.

What to do: For this type of pain, place ice cubes in the sore region, letting it stay for a about 10 to 15 minutes so as to relive the pain. Parents can also perform a massage on the affected area using a moisturizing cream or almond oil then leave the child to rest. However, there is no need to cease doing physical activity but it is ideal to reduce its intensity or the weekly frequency.

Other less common causes

Other less common causes of leg pain are hemochromatosis, gout, Paget’s disease, osteomalacene or tumours. When the leg pain is more associated with fatigue and lack of energy, the doctor may diagnose the cause as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome or myofascial pain. Therefore it is important to know the exact cause of the pain in the legs and when it requires medical or heotherapeutic evaluation.

Leg pain in pregnancy

Leg pain during pregnancy is common and its a natural symptom, especially in early stages of pregnancy. This is because of the increase in oestrogen and progesterone, which may cause dilation of the veins of the legs. This will further increase the volume of blood in the legs of the woman. The baby in the uterus, as well as increase in weight of the pregnant woman leads to compression of the sciatic nerve and the inferior vena cava which will result to swelling and pain in the legs.

To relive this discomfort, the woman can lie down on her stomach with her knees bent, as she does a spine stretching exercise and rest with her legs elevated.

How the diagnosis is made

The doctor usually makes a diagnosis by observing the symptoms and examining the individual by looking at the curvatures on the spine and bone extremities. He may also perform pain provoking tests as well as a palpation of the abdomen to assess whether there is pain in the abdominal or pelvic region. Blood tests and synovial fluid testing may also be necessary if synovitis or arthritis is suspected. Imaging such as X-ray or MRI may also be performed in case of suspected spinal changes. Based on the results, the diagnosis can be made and the most appropriate treatment for each condition is started.

When to go to the doctor

It is advisable to go to the doctor when the pain in the legs becomes very intense or when other symptoms are experienced. It is also important to go to the doctor:

  • When leg pain is localized and very intense
  • When there is rigidity of the calf
  • In case of fever
  • When the feet and ankles are very swollen
  • In case of suspected fracture
  • When it does not allow you to work
  • When it makes walking difficult

In the consultation, one should tell the doctor the intensity of the pain, when it arose and what was done to initially try to relive the symptoms. The doctor may perform tests so as to come up with the appropriate treatment. These may include use of various medications or physiotherapy.


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