Leg pain is a common problem. It can be due to a cramp, injury, or other cause.
Pain - leg; Aches - leg; Cramps - leg
Leg pain can be due to a muscle cramp (also called a charley horse). Common causes of cramps include:
- Dehydration or low amounts of potassium, sodium, calcium, or magnesium in the blood
- Medicines (such as diuretics and statins)
- Muscle fatigue or strain from overuse, too much exercise, or holding a muscle in the same position for a long time
An injury can also cause leg pain from:
- A torn or overstretched muscle (strain)
- Hairline crack in the bone (stress fracture)
- Inflamed tendon (tendinitis)
- Shin splints (pain in the front of the leg from overuse)
Other common causes of leg pain include:
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD), which causes a problem with blood flow in the legs (this type of pain, called claudication, is generally felt when exercising or walking and is relieved by rest)
- Blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) from long-term bed rest
- Infection of the bone (osteomyelitis) or skin and soft tissue (cellulitis)
- Inflammation of the leg joints caused by arthritis or gout
- Nerve damage common to people with diabetes, smokers, and alcoholics
- Varicose veins
Less common causes include:
- Cancerous bone tumors (osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma)
- Legg-Calve-Perthes disease: Poor blood flow to the hip that may stop or slow the normal growth of the leg
- Noncancerous (benign) tumors or cysts of the femur or tibia (osteoid osteoma)
- Sciatic nerve pain (radiating pain down the leg) caused by a slipped disk in the back
- Slipped capital femoral epiphysis: Most often seen in boys and overweight children between ages 11 and 15
If you have leg pain from cramps or overuse, take these steps first:
- Rest as much as possible.
- Elevate your leg.
- Apply ice for up to 15 minutes. Do this 4 times per day, more often for the first few days.
- Gently stretch and massage cramping muscles.
- Take over-the-counter pain medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Other homecare will depend on the cause of your leg pain.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- The painful leg is swollen or red.
- You have a fever.
- Your pain gets worse when you walk or exercise and improves with rest.
- The leg is black and blue.
- The leg is cold and pale.
- You are taking medicines that may be causing leg pain. DO NOT stop taking or change any of your medicines without talking to your provider.
- Self-care steps do not help.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will perform a physical exam and look at your legs, feet, thighs, hips, back, knees, and ankles.
Your provider may ask questions such as:
- Where on the leg is the pain? Is the pain in one or both legs?
- Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is the pain severe? Is the pain worse at any time of day?
- What makes the pain feel worse? Does anything make your pain feel better?
- Do you have any other symptoms such as numbness, tingling, back pain, or fever?
Your provider may recommend physical therapy for some causes of leg pain.
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Marcussen B, Hogrefe C, Amendola A. Leg pain and exertional compartment syndromes. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 112.
Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 420.
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