Leg pain

Woman helping sportsman with leg injury during cardio training

What is leg pain?

Pain in the leg is common and normally disappears quickly, either in a matter of moments, days, weeks or months. However, serious cases of leg pain can consistently affect your quality of life such as the ability to walk or bear weight.

What are the causes of leg pain?

Leg pain can occur as the result of many causes.

For instance:

• Crepitus, which is signified by a popping or cracking sound in the knee

Arthritis

• Muscular, tendon or ligament sprain

• Night cramps

• Compartment syndrome

• PAD (Peripheral artery disease)

Deep vein thrombosis

Cellulitis

• Infections

Varicose veins

• Varicose eczema

• Restless legs syndrome

• Neuropathy

• Nerve damage

• Sciatic nerve pain

Individuals can experience pain in their entire leg or a more specific part, like the shin or knee. Pain sensations can be stabbing, sharp, dull or an ache. Other causes of leg pain are rarely serious and in many cases the cause is not clear (non-specific leg pain). Non-specific leg pain usually clears up with time.

Can leg pain be prevented?

It isn’t 100 per cent possible to prevent leg pain; for example, musculoskeletal injuries from a fall can cause pain, or conditions that have developed over time such as arthritis.

In some cases, it’s important to find the treatment that is right for you or if it isn’t very serious, you can resolve some issues at home. However, preparing your muscles for sports and practising a healthy lifestyle can assist in the prevention of leg pain caused by circulatory problems like varicose veins.

To assist in the prevention of cramps you should stretch and warm up before and after exercising; avoid dehydration by drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water a day; regularly stretch and massage the legs.

To reduce risk of leg pain caused by circulatory issues, people should:

• Avoid or quit smoking

• Do moderate exercise, as recommended by a doctor

• Manage levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and lipids

• Control blood pressure

• Exercise and enjoy a healthy diet

• Follow any treatment plans you may have for cardiovascular or other conditions carefully

Leg pain relief

In most cases, taking the following measures can provide some relief from leg pain.

When your leg pain is from muscle cramps, fatigue, or overuse:

• Rest as much as possible and elevate your leg with pillows

• Wear compression socks with support

Perform leg stretches and exercises.

Take a warm bath or apply heat beforehand to relax the muscles.

Apply heat or cold. Compresses, hot water bottles, or a bag of frozen peas are good examples of things you can use to provide short-term relief.

Take anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen.

Be positive. Consider mind-over-matter, since people who stay optimistic seem to recover quicker on average. Remember, it’s very likely that leg pain will disappear over time.

Leg pain treatment

You should seek medical advice for leg pain if it:

• Is particularly intense

• Affects your daily activities

• Persists longer than a few weeks

• Gets worse with time rather than showing improvement. Your GP should be your first point of call. They may refer you to a specialist or to a physiotherapist if necessary.

Treatment for leg pain may include:

• Prescribed medications including creams and gels

• Injections such as steroid medications

Spinal cord stimulation

Nerve blocks

Physiotherapy such as exercises to strengthen muscles

• Manual therapy, for example; heat and cold therapy, acupuncture or massage

Which type of specialist treats leg pain?

A number of specialists, depending on what´s causing the leg pain, may be involved in treating it. This includes pain medicine experts, orthopaedic surgeons, and rheumatologists.