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Leg pain

Definition

Leg pain can be constant or intermittent, develop suddenly or gradually, and affect your entire leg or a localized area, such as your shin or your knee. It can take a number of forms — stabbing, sharp, dull, aching or tingling.

Some leg pain is simply annoying, but more-severe leg pain can affect your ability to walk or to bear weight on your leg.

Causes

Most leg pain results from wear and tear, overuse, or injuries in joints or bones or in muscles, ligaments, tendons or other soft tissues. Some types of leg pain can be traced to problems in your lower spine. Leg pain can also be caused by blood clots, varicose veins or poor circulation.

Some common causes of leg pain include:

  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Achilles tendon rupture
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • ACL injury (Anterior cruciate ligament injury)
  • Baker's cyst
  • Bone cancer
  • Broken leg
  • Bursitis
  • Chronic exertional compartment syndrome
  • Claudication
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Gout
  • Growing pains
  • Growth plate fractures
  • Hamstring injury
  • Herniated disk
  • Infection
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Knee bursitis
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
  • Meralgia paresthetica
  • Muscle cramp
  • Muscle strain
  • Night leg cramps
  • Osgood-Schlatter disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Paget's disease of bone
  • Patellar tendinitis
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Posterior cruciate ligament injury
  • Pseudogout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sacroiliitis
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Shin splints
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Sprains and strains
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendinitis
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Torn meniscus
  • Varicose veins

When to see a doctor

Call for immediate medical help or go to an emergency room if you:

  • Have a leg injury with a deep cut or exposed bone or tendon
  • Are unable to walk or put weight on your leg
  • Have pain, swelling, redness or warmth in your calf
  • Hear a popping or grinding sound at the time of a leg injury

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as redness, warmth or tenderness, or you have a fever greater than100 F (37.8 C)
  • A leg that is swollen, pale or unusually cool
  • Calf pain, particularly after prolonged sitting, such as on a long car trip or plane ride
  • Swelling in both legs along with breathing problems
  • Any serious leg symptoms that develop for no apparent reason

Schedule an office visit if:

  • You have pain during or after walking
  • You have swelling in both legs
  • Your pain gets worse
  • Your symptoms don't improve after a few days of home treatment
  • You have painful varicose veins

Self-care

Minor leg pain often responds well to home treatments. To relieve mild pain and swelling:

  • Stay off your leg as much as possible
  • Apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day
  • Elevate your leg whenever you sit or lie down
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve)

Last updated: March 4th, 2016

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