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Leg pain

  • Definition
    • Leg pain is a common problem. It can be due to a cramp, injury, or other cause.

  • Alternative Names
    • Pain - leg; Aches - leg; Cramps - leg

  • Causes
    • 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:

      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
  • Home Care
    • 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.

  • References
    • Ginsberg J. Peripheral venous disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 81.

      Marcussen B, Hogrefe C, Amendola A. Leg pain and exertional compartment syndromes. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 112.

      Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 420.

      Silverstein JA, Moeller JL, Hutchinson MR. Common issues in orthopedics. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 30.

      White CJ. Atherosclerotic peripheral arterial disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 79.