Leg pain is a common disorder that most people experience at some point in life. It can be due to an injury, exercise, overworking or walking for a long distance. However, most people don’t pay the required attention. Instead, they use instant remedies to go along with their day. It gives temporary relief but can affect the condition to make it worse. The most common reason behind worsening the pain is ignorance, which comes from a lack of awareness. This article explains everything about leg pain, its symptoms, risk factors and ways to treat it.
Leg pain is usually a result of inflammation of tissues in the leg. It can also occur due to an injury in the bone, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments etc. Depending on the cause of the pain, either single or both legs may experience the pain. That is because the leg has multiple structures and tissue. Any injury or disorder results in swelling and causes pain.
What is Leg Pain?
Leg pain is a symptom of injury or disease affecting any tissue structure of your legs. These structures can be the blood vessels, bones, joints and muscles. Additionally, nerves and soft tissues injury in the legs may impart pain. You can feel it anywhere between the hip to the feet. For example, you can experience pain in the hip, thighs, knees, ankle, foot and toe. Furthermore, blood clotting, restricted blood circulation and underlying medical conditions can also cause leg pain.
Symptoms of Chronic Leg Pain
As per the common understanding, leg pain is only experiencing pain in your feet due to excessive walking, fatigue or injury. However, the symptoms of leg pain are widespread, and avoiding them can lead to chronic leg pain. Some of the common symptoms of chronic leg pain are:
- Leg pain gets worse when you walk or exercise
- Swelling in both the legs
- Fever and signs of infection
- Pale and cold legs
- Blackish or bluish discolouration on bruises and feet
- Painful and swollen legs
- Injury with grinding and popping noise
- Inability to exert pressure during movements
Leg Pain: Causes
Our legs have multiple tissues like muscles, blood vessels, nerves, joints, ligaments etc. An injury to any of these tissues may cause leg pain. Likewise, any damage or disease to these tissues causes inflammation to the leg muscles, leading to pain. Some of the significant causes of leg pain are:
It is one of the most common causes of leg pain. The most common injuries are accidental injuries, bruises or sports injuries, which damage or disturb the structure or tissues of your leg and initiate leg pain. These injuries may affect your muscles, bones or joints.
A fracture injures the nerve endings located in your bones. As a result, the muscles around your bones develop spasms, restricting mobility. It worsens the pain.
It is a medical condition that causes swelling around the joint. A joint pain associated with swelling is called arthritis. The accumulation of uric acid crystals within the joints lead to swelling. Since it results in the hardening of the crystals, it also causes stiffness in joints. As a result, it restricts proper movement. Joints in your ankle, knee, wrist, great toe and fingers are most prone to uric acid crystal deposition. As a result, you experience pain and difficulty walking.
A blood clot in your leg artery may obstruct blood supply. As a result, it prevents oxygen-rich blood to the legs, causing pain. It may also cause skin discolouration because inadequate blood supply makes it flaky and dry. In addition, it leads to itching and ulcers.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Restricted blood circulation in your leg muscles results in peripheral artery disease. The primary cause is narrowing blood vessels in your leg, which happens due to plaque deposits or blood clots. It decreases the oxygen supply to the legs. Lack of sufficient oxygen to muscles causes pain. Pain in peripheral artery disease is common during physical activity.
As per studies, PAD patients may experience classic claudication, atypical leg pain, rest pain, ischemic ulcers, gangrene, or no symptoms at all. The study also suggests that patients with PAD may experience many problems, such as ischemic rest pain, repeated hospitalisations, revascularisations, and limb loss. As a result, it may lead to poor quality of life and a high rate of depression.
Abnormal swelling within the compartments of your leg that holds the muscles is a sign of compartment syndrome. It occurs due to high blood pressure. In this condition, the blood circulation to the muscles cuts off, resulting in pain and numbness. As a result, it restricts movement and majorly affect the foot or ankle. The condition demands immediate medical attention.
Studies show that the anterior compartment of the leg is the most common location for compartment syndrome. The compartment contains the extensor muscles of the toes, the anterior tibialis muscle, the deep peroneal nerve, and the tibial artery. In addition, you may experience pain in the forearm, thigh, buttock, shoulder, hand, and foot. You can also experience symptoms in the abdomen, but it is present in the limbs more commonly.
Skin disorders like bruises, injury, inflammations, foot ulcers or infections are painful. There may be delayed healing in the case of diabetes. Since your skin has numerous nerve fibres that sense pain, these skin disorders also cause leg or foot pain.
As per studies, if unilateral leg pain is more significant than low back pain, it indicates sciatica. An injury to the sciatic nerve cause sciatica. Since the sciatic nerve has the largest diameter, the pain can radiate down along its distribution sites. However, the most common areas where you feel sciatica pain in the legs are your hips, thigh and foot.
Damage to any nerve outside the brain and spinal cord leads to peripheral neuropathy. It may occur from nerve inflammation, nerve compression or trauma. In addition, some infections also lead to peripheral neuropathy.
One of the significant causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. In addition, pregnancy exerts pressure on your uterus, causing nerve swelling. That is another cause of peripheral neuropathy. Furthermore, alcohol can also be a reason because it is toxic to nerves and injures them.
As per studies, If you have peripheral neuropathy, you may feel burning or tingling, like “pins and needles,” in your feet. In addition, it leads to extreme pain in your feet. Research also states
- Changes in the way you walk
- Loss of balance, which could make you fall more often
- Loss of muscle tone in your hands and feet
- Pain when you walk
- Problems sensing movement or position
- Swollen feet
Muscle cramps cause unbearable pain, leading to restricted muscle movements. The most common causes of muscle pain are dehydration, overstretching and electrolytes imbalance. Dehydration causes the absorption of fluids from your tissues, especially muscle tissues, which restricts mobility.
Calcium, sodium, and potassium are essential for the smooth functioning of muscles. Therefore, the deficiency of essential minerals affects muscle movements. Cramps may last from a few seconds to minutes.
Diabetes causes leg pain in multiple ways. First, persistent abnormal blood glucose levels may affect your nerves and blood vessels. Then, over time, high glucose levels cause constriction of nerves and blood vessels, preventing the nutrients from reaching the nerve cells. As a result, it damages the nerve fibres, causing nerve swelling. Finally, it results in a condition called diabetic neuropathy.
Research indicates that almost 90% of diabetes patients experience diabetic neuropathy. It affects the toes and distal foot but slowly progresses proximally to involve the feet and legs in a stocking distribution.
Unhealthy Weight Gain
Excess body weight may stress your joints and bones like the hips, knees and ankles, which bear your body weight. As a result, weight gain initiates lower back pain, which can radiate to your legs resulting in leg pain.
An injury to the ligament leads to a sprain, another common cause of leg pain. Your ligament is a tissue that connects one bone to another. When the muscle stretches too far, it may cause a ligament injury. It generally occurs during sudden movements like playing intensely or running.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
A blood clot present in any deep vein is called DVT. It is generally in the thigh or lower leg area. You may experience pain, swelling and redness without any history of injury. However, it can be a life-threatening situation because it obstructs blood circulation.
As per studies, DVT usually occurs in the lower leg. Although it often goes unnoticed and dissolves independently, it may cause symptoms like pain and swelling. In addition, the risk of deep vein thrombosis increases after more major operations such as knee or hip replacement surgery.
Remedies to Treat Leg Pain at Home
Some easy and effective self-care treatments can help cure leg pain. However, ensure medical attention if the pain does not regress with these remedies. It will help prevent further complications.
It is a recommended first aid for pain associated with the leg. It stands for:
If you experience pain in your legs while moving, rest them. Do not walk or use the leg muscles a lot. Continue doing so until you can move without pain.
You can use an ice pack around the affected area for 10-15 minutes. Do this a couple of times to feel better.
Use a compression stocking or wrap an elastic band around the pain site. It prevents movements and controls the swelling.
It means you need to rest your leg above your heart level for a few minutes, about 3 to 4 times a day. It prevents the accumulation of fluids in the site to cause swelling. Instead, it helps move the fluids to other body parts and reduce swelling.
Massage Your Legs
Just massage and rub your legs in an upward direction towards your heart. Press gently and avoid applying more pressure. It will help dilute the fluid concentration in that area and ease your pain.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and contains powerful antioxidants like curcumin. You can use it in various ways to heal the pain. For example, you can apply a turmeric paste and warm sesame oil to the affected site. It helps to reduce swelling. In addition, you can drink warm turmeric milk or ginger turmeric tea to reap the healing benefits of turmeric.
Epsom salts help to relax muscles and reduce swelling. Soak your feet under lukewarm water containing Epsom salt for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Methi (Fenugreek) Water
Fenugreek is a natural remedy to treat pain as it has anti-inflammatory properties. You can drink fenugreek water to help ease the pain. Dry the fenugreek leaves under the sun and make a powder out of them. Mix one teaspoon of powder with one cup (250 ml) water and drink three times per day.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
Although you can cure mild to moderate leg pain with home remedies and lifestyle modifications, you should get medical care if the pain worsens or does not regress within a few hours. It is best to seek medical attention at the earliest to avoid further consequences. In addition, you need to seek medical attention during the following conditions:
- Your home remedy fails to relieve pain
- You have persistent pain for more than a few hours despite having painkillers
- Pain interferes with your routine activities
- You have a swollen joint with restricted movements
- Symptoms of infection like fever, pain, redness around the swelling
- Swelling in legs along with breathing disorders
- Injury with deep wounds
- Pain in back and leg simultaneously along with bowel or bladder function changes. It may be a disorder of your spinal cord, which requires urgent medical attention.
Leg Pain: Ways to Diagnose
Studies demonstrate several ways to diagnose leg pain. Apart from self-observing the causes mentioned above, you can diagnose leg pain through various modalities. Although it mainly involves physical examination, doctors diagnose it through your medical history, blood investigations, radiographs etc. It helps determine the cause of the pain. Here are some standard procedures to diagnose leg pain.
1. Blood Tests
Involve routine blood investigation, which helps identify the markers of infection and inflammation. It also detects nutritional deficiencies or any medical condition that causes leg pain. For example, it may be diabetes, cholesterol, blood clot etc.
2. Computed Tomography (CT)
Scan helps with a refined and detailed image of your body. It involves the bones, joints, soft tissues and internal organs. It also detects internal bleeding, blood clots etc. Therefore, it helps diagnose injuries, infections, inflammations etc.
3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Uses radio waves to provide detailed images of your body, including soft tissues, ligaments, joints, complex and hidden fractures etc., which are not visible in an X-Ray.
Helps to rule out and diagnose any soft tissue injury. In addition, it can detect any growth or nerve injury.
Healthcare professionals use Computerised Tomography (CT) to diagnose multiple conditions. For example, it helps evaluate blood clots, bone and joint disorders, fractures etc.
Involves injecting a dye into your vein. It evaluates the blood circulation in the legs. In addition, it helps to assess any obstruction in blood flow due to clots. The path of dye is observed through MRI or CT scan.
6. Electromyography (EMG)
Assesses muscular activity. It involves poking a needle electrode into muscles, which helps detect injury to nerves within the muscles.
7. Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI)
Assesses arterial blood flow in the legs. It evaluates the blood circulation both at rest and during physical activity or exercise.
8. Nerve Conduction
Studies evaluate nerve function and ability to carry impulses. In addition, it helps to find if any nerve injury is the cause of leg pain.
9. Joint Fluid Aspiration
Involves drawing out fluid from your joints and examining it. It analyses the WBCs, crystal analysis, culture etc. An increase in WBC count indicates inflammation. Culture analysis suggests a bacterial infection. Furthermore, crystal analysis diagnoses any deposits of uric acid crystals. Uric acid crystal indicates gout, a joint disorder that causes uric acid accumulation in the bone. It results in impaired movements and pain.
10. Compartment Pressures Analysis
Helps assess the pressures of the muscular compartments of the leg. Elevated pressures indicate compartment syndrome.
Medical Treatments for Leg Pain
Leg pain treatments are based on your medical history, medical investigations and overall diagnosis. Some of the common treatments are:
Your doctor will prescribe some drugs to help relieve your leg pain. These medicines include Acetaminophen or antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, a doctor can also prescribe vitamin supplements in case of nutritional deficiency disorders. In addition, some other treatments can be topical applicants or ointments or analgesic sprays.
Physiotherapy is an approach to revive and maintain the function of bones and muscles. Therefore, a healthcare professional will recommend physiotherapy in case of muscle weakness. It also helps revive your muscle strength and heal bone injury. Physiotherapy involves stretching movements and exercises. Furthermore, it helps in the rehabilitation and prevention of bone disorders.
Leg pain may result from certain underlying medical conditions. Although there are ways to ease pain naturally or with some medication, chronic and long-lasting pain may require surgical intervention. Such situations involve a complex bone fracture, neuropathy, arthritis. In addition, doctors also recommend surgery in compartment syndrome and complex fractures. Compartment syndrome is an emergency that requires surgery to release elevated pressure. Surgery will also help restore blood circulation and nerve function.
Leg Pain: Preventive Measures
Although you may not prevent all causes of leg pain, the following ways can help you prevent some common causes of leg pain.
Abnormal bodyweight is a cause of leg pain. So, you should schedule a well-planned and regular exercise regime. It helps maintain healthy and optimum body weight. You can indulge in various exercises. For example, swimming is an effective exercise for patients with joint disorders. It does not exert much pressure. However, consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of any medical condition.
Stay Physically Active
Avoid being in the same position for a long time. Instead, try to stretch your body a couple of times a day. In addition, flex your knees and ankles while sitting straight. It enhances blood circulation and pumps back the extra fluid from your legs.
Wear Supportive Shoes
Ensure your exercise shoes have appropriate cushioning and arch support. Inappropriate or loose-fitting shoes cause an imbalance in your posture and movements, affecting the muscles to trigger swelling and pain.
Look After Your Bone Health
Minerals like calcium, potassium, and vitamin D help strengthen your bones. Hence, ensure you include foods that contain the essential minerals. These foods include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, bananas, seafood etc.
Dehydration draws fluid out of your tissues, resulting in pain across the body. In addition, dehydration also leads to cramps, which cause leg pain. Therefore, you should drink enough fluids to help you avoid this condition.
Follow a well balanced and nutritious diet and regular workouts. They will help strengthen your immunity and improve overall health. Additionally, they will help prevent weight gain, heart diseases, diabetes etc. All these disorders may affect the blood circulation in the legs and initiate leg pain.
Sitting or standing for prolonged periods may cause leg pain because it exerts pressure on your ankles and thighs. In addition, it restricts the blood flow, resulting in swelling. Here are a few recommendations to avoid leg pain or swelling when seated for a long time.
- Use compression stocking suggested by your doctor
- Take a break between work and walk around.
- Keeping your feet up off the floor
- Avoid wearing tight clothes because they restrict blood circulation.
Nicotine causes the narrowing of blood vessels and obstructs blood circulation. Lack of blood supply to the tissues causes pain. If the affected blood vessels are in the legs, it results in leg pain. Therefore, you should avoid smoking.
The Bottom Line
Leg pain is not only a result of fatigue, excess walking or tiredness. It can result from various causes. In addition, it can be an indicator of a severe medical condition. Therefore, you should never ignore it. Furthermore, avoid self-diagnosing if the pain persists for more than a few hours. It is best to seek medical attention because timely physical examination and investigations help diagnose the actual cause. It also avoids complications and rules out further disorders.
Although leg pain is a common disorder, it goes unnoticed and leads to severe complications later. Hence, start observing the symptoms if you have leg pain. In addition, people who experience leg pain occasionally should also take the required preventive measures to avoid any complexities. Remember, a healthy and well-balanced diet and an active lifestyle are the keys to a healthified life.