What causes lower leg pain? When should you take it seriously and see a doctor? How does it go? What is good for lower leg pain? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.

Lower leg pain: Symptoms

We need our legs for most activities of daily living, and we often underestimate them. We may not realize how important our legs and calves are, but only until we have lower leg pain.

The lower leg consists of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, blood vessels and nerves. Damage or irritation of any of these structures can result in lower leg pain. Pain can sometimes be felt as aching and tingling in the legs . Because pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs healing, it is wise to pay attention to that pain and treat the cause rather than “fighting it”.

Lower leg pain may be associated with the following common symptoms:

  • difficulty walking
  • pain during leg movement
  • swelling of the joints or leg
  • leg deformity
  • discoloration of the legs

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Lower leg pain: Causes

Mostly, lower leg pain is caused by musculoskeletal injuries from any strain, sprain, tear, or other damage that can result from sports or daily life. Such injuries are inevitable as we use our legs every time we need to get around, whether by scoring a football goal or carrying the heavy box. While most of these wear and tear injuries are fairly minor, some causes of lower leg pain may require immediate treatment.

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Musculoskeletal causes

Musculoskeletal causes of lower leg pain may include:

  • Strains and sprains: Overuse or acute injury can cause the lower leg muscles, tendons, or ligaments to tear. The use of the lower legs in such a situation causes pain.
  • Joint damage: Years of wear or acute injury to the joints of the lower leg can cause inflammation of the joints called arthritis.
  • Fracture: Acute trauma to the lower leg can cause a fracture of the tibia, fibula, or other bones.
  • Overuse: If you hit the ground hard while climbing stairs, or if you suddenly increase the amount of running you do, your muscles may ache and cause mild to moderate pain during use.

Vascular causes

Vascular causes of lower leg pain include:

  • Clot: Some people are prone to forming blood clots in the lower legs, especially when they are inactive for long periods of time. These clots can cause soreness and swelling of the affected leg.
  • Vascular disease: If you feel pain or cramping in your lower legs during exercise or at night, you may have vascular disease. This is most common in smokers and diabetics.

metabolic causes

Metabolism-related causes of lower leg pain may include the following.

  • Electrolyte imbalance: Dehydration (thirst) and the resulting electrolyte imbalance can cause lower leg pain and cramps, especially if your potassium levels are low.
  • Inherited: Some rare genetic disorders can cause painful cramps in the muscles.

Causes due to infection

Infection-related causes of lower leg pain may include:

  • Tissue infection: Infection of the skin or soft tissues of the lower leg can cause local pain, usually triggered by touch.
  • Other infections: Infections in the knee, ankle, toe, or joints can also cause pain in the lower leg.

autoimmune causes

Some autoimmune diseases ( such as multiple sclerosis ) affect the joints of the lower legs, causing damage, inflammation, and pain.

Nerve related causes

A peripheral nerve injury can also cause pain, such as affecting the nerves located in or connected to the lower legs.

Note: This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Lower leg pain: Triggers

Health conditions that trigger lower leg pain include, but are not limited to:

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runner’s leg syndrome

Runner’s leg syndrome is when there is pain in the front of the lower leg. The pain is caused by swelling of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shinbone and is rare. Symptoms of runner’s leg syndrome may appear as shin pain, which can sometimes be dull, and menstrual irregularity in women. Runner’s leg syndrome is not an emergency and will go away on its own with self-care measures.

calf stretch

Stretching of the calf is caused by repetitive use and is rare. Symptoms include lower leg pain, lower leg numbness, and calf pain. However, it is also important to know that the calf stretch does not cause severe pain. Calf strain will go away on its own with self-care measures.

restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a chronic condition characterized by uncomfortable sensations when lying down and a strong urge to move the legs, and leg pain may also be experienced during attacks. Leg movement temporarily relieves unpleasant sensations and often causes poor quality sleep.

muscle pull

A muscle pull is when a muscle is overstretched and microscopic tears occur. Lower leg pain can occur when one of the muscles on the back of the lower leg is pulled. Muscle pulling is usually caused by sports and goes away on its own with self-care measures.

peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease in the legs or lower extremities is narrowing or blockage of the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs. It is primarily caused by a buildup of fatty plaque called atherosclerosis in the arteries. Peripheral artery disease can occur in any blood vessel, but it is more common in the legs than the arms. Therefore, it is also likely to cause lower leg pain. Peripheral arterial disease is common and its symptoms include numbness in the legs, decreased tolerance to sports, and calf and leg pain. In case of suspicion of peripheral artery disease, a doctor’s control is required.

Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage and is a health condition that is characterized by numbness, tingling and burning sensations in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown, and chronic means the condition continues without improving or worsening. This condition is most common in people over the age of 60 and has no known cause. Symptoms include muscle and joint pain , joint stiffness, and loss of muscle mass. Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy is a condition that requires medical control.

Note: This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Lower leg pain: Treatment and relief

Most causes of lower leg pain are pain from minor injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower leg. These types of injuries can be managed quite easily at home. However, if you experience sudden-onset, moderate to severe pain with no obvious cause, or if you find yourself with an acute injury so severe that it is difficult to walk, you should seek immediate medical attention.

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Things that are good for lower leg pain

Things that are good for lower leg pain include:

  • Rest: Most minor injuries heal with time and as the body rests.
  • Ice: Cold packs can reduce inflammation of tissues and relieve some pain.
  • Compression: Moderately tight wrapping around an injured joint can help reduce inflammation.
  • Elevation: Lifting an injured ankle or lower leg can reduce swelling.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretching of an injured extremity aids the healing process and prevents the muscles from being overstretched.
  • Rehydration: Fluids containing electrolytes can help with lower leg pain caused by cramps when dehydrated.
  • Over-the- counter pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can reduce pain and inflammation.

Medical treatments for lower leg pain

Before medical treatment, the cause of your pain must first be identified and diagnosed. Possible diagnoses and treatments that will be recommended by your doctor may include:

  • Physical examination: The doctor will examine your leg to help diagnose the cause of the pain.
  • Imaging: Ultrasound, computed tomography , or MRI scans may be needed to diagnose the cause of leg pain .
  • Physical therapy: Oftentimes, physical therapy is the most effective way to heal an injured extremity.
  • Prescription pain medications: Pain medications that your doctor will prescribe can help reduce pain.
  • Surgery: Some conditions that cause lower leg pain may require surgery to repair.
  • Anticoagulation: Blood-thinning medications are often required to resolve lower leg pain caused by clots.

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