Health Information Library

All the content of the library is provided from Mayo Clinic in English.
As a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, RSPP has special access to Mayo Clinic knowledge and resources.

< Back

Leg pain


Definition

Leg pain can be constant or come and go. It may start suddenly or get worse over a period of time. It may affect your entire leg or only a specific area, such as your shin or your knee. Leg pain may be worse during certain times, such as during the night or first thing in the morning. Leg pain may worsen with activity and get better when resting. You may feel leg pain as stabbing, sharp, dull, aching or tingling.

Some leg pain is simply annoying. But more-severe leg pain can affect your ability to walk or to put weight on your leg.

Causes

Leg pain is a symptom with many possible causes. Most leg pain results from wear and tear or overuse. It also can result from injuries or health conditions in joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves or other soft tissues. Some types of leg pain can be traced to problems in your lower spine. Leg pain also can be caused by blood clots, varicose veins or poor blood flow.

Some common causes of leg pain include:

Arthritis

  • Gout
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis)
  • Pseudogout
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Blood flow problems

  • Claudication
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Varicose veins

Bone conditions

  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Bone cancer
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Paget's disease of bone

Infection

  • Cellulitis
  • Infection
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Septic arthritis

Injury

  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Achilles tendon rupture
  • ACL injury
  • Broken leg
  • Bursitis (A condition in which small sacs that cushion the bones, tendons and muscles near joints become inflamed.)
  • Chronic exertional compartment syndrome
  • Growth plate fractures
  • Hamstring injury
  • Knee bursitis
  • Muscle strains (An injury to a muscle or to tissue that connects muscles to bones, called a tendon.)
  • Patellar tendinitis
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome
  • Shin splints
  • Sprains (Stretching or tearing of a tissue band called a ligament, which connects two bones together in a joint.)
  • Stress fractures (Tiny cracks in a bone.)
  • Tendinitis (A condition that happens when swelling called inflammation affects a tendon.)
  • Torn meniscus

Nerve problems

  • Herniated disk
  • Meralgia paresthetica
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Sciatica (Pain that travels along the path of a nerve that runs from the lower back down to each leg.)
  • Spinal stenosis

Muscle conditions

  • Dermatomyositis
  • Medicines, especially the cholesterol medicines known as statins
  • Myositis
  • Polymyositis

Other problems

  • Baker cyst
  • Growing pains
  • Muscle cramp
  • Night leg cramps
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Low levels of certain vitamins, such as vitamin D
  • Too much or too little of electrolytes, such as calcium or potassium

When to see a doctor

Call for medical help right away or go to an emergency room if you:

  • Have a leg injury with a deep cut or you can see bone or tendon.
  • Can't walk or put weight on your leg.
  • Have pain, swelling, redness or warmth in your lower leg.
  • Hear a popping or grinding sound at the time of a leg injury.

See your health care provider as soon as possible if you have:

  • Symptoms of infection, such as redness, warmth or tenderness, or you have a fever greater than100 F (37.8 C).
  • A leg that is swollen, pale or cooler than usual.
  • Calf pain, especially after sitting for a long time, such as on a long car trip or plane ride.
  • Swelling in both legs along with breathing problems.
  • Any serious leg symptoms that start for no clear reason.

Make an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • You have pain during or after walking.
  • You have swelling in both legs.
  • Your pain gets worse.
  • Your symptoms don't get better after a few days of treating them at home.
  • You have painful varicose veins.

Self-care

Minor leg pain often gets better with treatment at home. To help with mild pain and swelling:

  • Stay off your leg as much as possible. Then begin mild use and stretching as recommended by your health care provider.
  • Raise your leg whenever you sit or lie down.
  • Put an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas on the painful part for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day.

Try pain relievers you can buy without a prescription. Products you put on your skin, such as creams, patches and gels, may help. Some examples are products that include menthol, lidocaine or diclofenac sodium (Voltaren Arthritis Pain). You also can try oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Content Last Updated: 25-Apr-2023
© 1998-2023 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of Use.