Human bodies are subject to frequent aches and pains that come and go. Usually, these are not of great concern or importance. But when pains are inexplicable, linger and impact the quality of life, you might need medical attention.
Thighs, hamstrings, lower leg and calf areas often feel pain. Most pain results from wear and tear, overuse, or injuries in joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons or other soft tissues.
Pain can be traced to problems in the lower spine. Blood clots, varicose veins or poor circulation are other causes.
Types of Leg Pain
Leg pain may manifest itself in a wide variety of symptoms – sharp, dull, heavy, aching, or burning. It may be constant or intermittent; made better or worse with activity or rest. There may be other associated symptoms.
Painful muscles and joints may be palpated – touching the area reproduce the pain. Pain may be referred – radiate from its source to another location.
Sometimes pain resolves with activity, or it may be made worse.
Patients may experience impairment, pain or discomfort while walking, standing or exercising, which is relieved by rest. This is known as claudication and is due to narrowing of blood vessels.
Ischemia (decreased oxygen supply to the tissues) causes acute, intense pain, which may be accompanied by numbness or paralysis.
People with neuropathy tend to describe their pain as a burning sensation, while those who have sciatica describe the intense sharp pain. Sciatica may also cause changes in sensation along the path of the inflamed nerve root.
Nighttime pain and leg cramps may be associated with restless legs syndrome.
Causes of Nontraumatic Leg Pain
Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Pain in one or both legs may be due to a decrease in arterial blood supply due to narrowing arteries.
Blood clots: in an artery can completely obstruct blood supply, preventing tissues from getting oxygen, causing acute pain.
Venous (in a vein) blood clots – deep venous thrombosis – causes a “damming” effect, causing redness, swelling, warmth, and pain.
Superficial veins also clot and cause pain, but are not life-threatening.
Low back pain from sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve) may radiate into the buttocks and down the leg.
Spinal stenosis (narrowing of spinal canal) may result in pain, numbness, and weakness.
Cauda equina syndrome: is a serious neurosurgical emergency in which back pain, weakness and numbness around the perineal area (rectum, scrotum, vagina), results in inability to urinate and loss of bowel control.
Neuropathy: peripheral nerve inflammations – peripheral neuropathies – occurring from direct nerve irritation or illness, cause foot and toe pain.
Chronic illnesses: diabetes, alcoholism, cancer, and vitamin deficiencies result in nerve pain that often affects both legs.
Skin inflammations & infections: cause significant pain, especially with underlying illnesses that prevent adequate healing. Skin that is stretched due to edema or fluid accumulation also causes pain.
Shingles: cause pain due to inflammation of spinal cord nerves.
Joint pain: may occur from a local injury, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid or other types of arthritis.
Systemic illnesses: like psoriasis, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and Lyme disease cause joint inflammation.
Muscles: pain, cramps, spasms, or other muscle injuries may be due to overuse (mild trauma), or associated with an infection, or be a side effect of some medications.
Varicose veins – enlarged due to improperly functioning valves, often seen in the legs.
Arthritis – causes stiff, painful joints.
Gout – mostly affects the legs and feet. Inflammation-driven flare-ups cause extreme pain.
Tight hamstrings –cause nagging pain in thighs and lower body.
Physical activity – one of the biggest side effects is sore muscles.
Flu – full-body aches, including legs.
Cramps – continuous muscular contractions, a side effect of dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, too much physical activity, as well as medication use.
Bursitis – inflammation especially in the knees, ankles, and heels, due to swelling of the bursa in a joint.
Deep Vein Thrombosis – a blood clot forms in the legs and causes sharp pain, swelling and inflammation.
Fracture – a tear in bone tissue.
Cancer – tumors, fractures due to bone cancer, can painfully compress bone tissue and nerves.
Shin Splints – caused by tears in the muscle sheath between the two major bones in the lower legs.
Polio – has reappeared after decades. It causes weakness and muscular pain in the thighs and legs.
Sedentary lifestyles – cause nagging pain generally in the legs, due to slow muscle atrophy.
Medications – leg pain is a common condition from medication use.
Edema – swelling that often occurs in the legs, commonly from congestive heart failure.
Hip Surgery – causes extensive pain during and after recovery.
Diabetes – can cause peripheral neuropathy, first experienced in the legs and feet. Diabetes also causes blood vessels to narrow and cause symptoms of PAD (peripheral artery disease) or claudication.
Multiple Sclerosis – a degenerative muscle tissue disease, causing lower leg pain and weakness.
Leg Pain in Children
While most leg pain in children is not serious, there are times when the pain has a significant cause.
These may include a joint infection causing hip pain, trauma, damage to growth plates, and pain due to systemic illnesses like Henoch-Schönlein purpura, Legg-Calve-Perthes, Osgood-Schlatter, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or rheumatic fever.
A professional care provider should immediately attend to leg pain in children.
If you are concerned about unexplained leg pain make an appointment with a specialist right away. Call Movement Orthopedics at (586) 436-3785 for a consultation and the latest treatments. You can also request an appointment online at any time.