Medical Causes of a Burning Sensation in Your Leg
What is leg burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation can result from a number of causes, including damage to nerves in the legs from exposure to extreme heat or cold or to toxic substances. Leg burning sensation might also result from a circulation problem that impairs blood flow to the legs, a leg injury, or intense exercise. Another possible cause of leg burning sensation is meralgia paresthetica, which is pain in the outer thigh due to compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, one of the main nerves within the thigh. Chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, can also cause the sensation of burning in the legs.
Alternatively, leg burning sensation may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the peripheral nerves that relay signals between the body and the brain and spinal cord lose function. Peripheral neuropathy can be due to a number of specific diseases and disorders, including alcoholism, diabetes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune nerve disorder. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy has no known cause.
A burning feeling may be the only symptom experienced or it may be accompanied by tingling (paresthesia) and numbness. The duration and course of leg burning sensation can vary widely, depending on the underlying condition. Leg burning sensation caused by injury often has a sudden onset, while leg burning sensation resulting from peripheral neuropathy develops slowly and persists or worsens over time.
Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a sudden leg burning sensation is accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of your body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of stroke. Also, if your leg burning sensation is a result of a severe burn, seek immediate medical care (call 911).
If your leg burning sensation is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with leg burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the legs also involve other body systems.
Leg symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms affecting the legs including:
- Redness, warmth or swelling
Meralgia paresthetica symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany other symptoms when caused by meralgia paresthetica (pain or numbness in the outer thigh). Symptoms of meralgia paresthetica include:
- Aching or pain in the groin or buttocks
- Outer thigh pain
- Sensitivity to touch
- Symptoms on one side of the body
- Tingling or numbness in the outer thigh
Other symptoms that may occur along with leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
Changes in sensation
Extreme sensitivity to touch
Foot problems, such as ulcers and bone and joint pain
Tingling, numbness, or other unusual sensations in the legs
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
Sudden leg burning sensation accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of the body can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have leg burning sensation along with other serious symptoms including:
Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
Paralysis or inability to move a body part
Worst headache of your life
What causes leg burning sensation?
Leg burning sensation can be caused by nerve or skin damage in the legs and surrounding tissues. Burns from chemicals or extreme heat, as well as exposure to poisonous substances, may damage the nerves in the skin, resulting in a sensation of leg burning.
Damage to the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy) can also cause a leg burning sensation. Peripheral neuropathy may be due to specific diseases or conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism, that can affect nerve health, or it may have no known cause.
Physical causes of leg burning sensation
Leg burning sensation may be due to physical causes including:
- Burns, including sunburn
- Exposure to cold
- Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds
- High-intensity exercise
- Leg injury
- Pressure on nerve
Diseases or disorders causing leg burning sensation
A number of diseases can cause burning legs including:
- Alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with excessive alcohol consumption)
- Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)
- Meralgia paresthetica (pain in outer thigh due to nerve compression)
- Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
- Shingles (reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which remains in the body in an inactive state following chickenpox)
- Spinal stenosis, disc disease, or other conditions of the spine
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
- Vitamin deficiencies
Serious or life-threatening causes of leg burning sensation
In some cases, leg burning sensation may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of leg burning sensation
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your leg burning sensation including:
- How long have you felt the burning sensation in your leg?
- Where do you feel the burning sensation?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
What are the potential complications of leg burning sensation?
Because leg burning sensation can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Brain damage (if the sensation of leg burning is due to stroke)
- Chronic pain
- Loss of limb
- Permanent nerve damage