Leg Pain

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What is leg pain?

Leg pain is any type of pain or discomfort in the leg, from the hip joint to the heels. Leg pain is a fairly common complaint. Your legs are made up of joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels all of which are subject to injury, infection or other conditions that can cause leg pain.

Leg pain may last briefly or be constant, and affect your entire leg or only a particular area. Your pain may feel achy, piercing or tingling. Pain-like sensations often described as pins-and-needles, prickling, or burning sensations are called paresthesias. Leg pain may be simply irritating and uncomfortable, or so debilitating that you cannot put weight on your leg or walk.

Leg pain can arise from a variety of conditions ranging from accidental trauma to nerve conditions. In the absence of trauma or other symptoms, leg pain is commonly caused by a muscle cramp, also called a “charley horse.” In some cases, leg pain can originate in another part of the body such as the back. This type of leg pain is called referred leg pain. If you are experiencing other symptoms along with your leg pain, be sure to tell your health care provider. This information will help your doctor determine a diagnosis.

Leg pain may also be a symptom of deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg), which is a serious and life-threatening condition. The blood clot in the leg can break loose and cause a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even strokeSeek immediate emergency medical care if you are experiencing leg pain after mild exercise or exertion, or if you are experiencing pain, swelling, redness, and warmth in the calf.

Leg pain that originates in the lumbar area and travels down the buttocks, accompanied by loss of bladder or bowel control, is a sign of a pinched nerve. This serious condition should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency medical setting. If your leg pain is persistent or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.

What other symptoms might occur with leg pain?

Other symptoms may occur with leg pain depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. If you have a fever, your leg pain is likely due to infection or inflammation. Leg pain due to arthritis may occur with stiffness and reduced range of motion. You may also experience ankle or hip pain.

Symptoms that may occur along with leg pain

Leg pain may occur with other symptoms including:

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Joint pain

  • Reduced range of motion of a joint

  • Skin bumps

  • Varicose veins

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, leg pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition. Get immediate help in an emergency setting if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Cold and pale leg

  • Difficulty breathing

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Inability to walk or put weight on your leg

  • Pain after walking or mild exertion

  • Pale or bluish skin (cyanosis)

  • Popping sound at time of leg injury

  • Progressive weakness and numbness down the leg with loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Red streaks

  • Red, warm, and swollen legs

  • Sores on your feet and toes that do not heal properly

What causes leg pain?

Infectious diseases, blood circulation problems, and neurological conditions can affect the leg. However, most leg pain is due to overuse, injury, and age-related wear and tear on the muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments of the leg, including the hip, knee and ankle. Usually these conditions are not serious, and you can largely prevent and treat overuse and injury problems with self-care measures and lifestyle changes. For example, proper rest in between periods of exertion and abstaining from extreme sports without proper conditioning are two practical methods of avoiding leg trauma.

Leg pain may arise from conditions that can be alleviated by self-care measures or by following your health care provider’s treatment plan.

Injury-related causes of leg pain

Leg pain may arise from injuries including:

Degenerative, inflammatory and autoimmune–related causes of leg pain

Leg pain can also be caused by the deterioration of the joint structure, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases, such as:

Other causes of joint pain

Leg pain may be a symptom of more obscure or rare conditions that are not immediately evident. These include:

  • Bone tumor (malignant or benign)

  • Medications, such as corticosteroids or allopurinol, which is used to treat gout

  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (rare, degenerative hip bone disease)

  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

  • Sciatic nerve damage due to spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease

  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

  • Growth plate fracture

Serious or life-threatening causes of leg pain

In some cases, leg pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency medical setting. These include:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg, which can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the spinal cord and nerves)

What are the potential complications of leg pain?

The complications of leg pain depend on the underlying disease, disorder and condition. Mild leg pain due to overuse usually responds to rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, untreated leg pain due to serious conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) or peripheral artery disease, can lead to permanent damage and life-threatening secondary complications.

Some of the more serious complications of leg pain due to deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, and spinal stenosis include:

  • Loss of limb (amputation)

  • Permanent nerve damage

  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)

  • Stroke

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Leg pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003182.htm
  2. Leg pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/leg-pain/MY00080/DSECTION=causes