What Causes Leg Pain? When to See a Doctor

What is Leg Pain?

Pain in the region from the waist to the ankle is defined as leg pain. Leg pain can range in severity and type from faint aches to sharp stabbing pains. It can be felt in different areas from the hip and knee to the ankle or throughout the entire leg. An important part of leg pain originates from the musculoskeletal system.

  • Traumas
  • rheumatic diseases
  • overuse
  • Back and nervous system problems
  • Vascular diseases are possible causes of leg pain.

Although leg pain is usually mild and resolves spontaneously in a few days, it may be necessary to consult a doctor in severe and persistent pain. The first step in appropriate treatment is the correct diagnosis.

What Causes Leg Pain?

A significant portion of leg pain is caused by muscle cramps. A sharp pain may occur with the sudden contraction of the muscles during the cramp. The contracted muscle mass can cause a palpable swelling under the skin. Sometimes there may be redness and edema around the muscle. Muscle fatigue, dehydration, alcohol consumption and various medications can cause muscle cramps.

2. Trauma and Overuse

Muscle fibers can be damaged or even torn due to excessive stretching . These injuries are most common in the hamstring, quadriceps and gastrocnemius muscles around the knee and calf.

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Tendons , which are connective tissue fibers that muscles attach to bone , can be injured, edematous and inflamed as a result of overuse or sudden trauma. Inflammation of the tendon is called tendinitis . Tendon injuries and tendinitis in the leg most commonly occur in the hamstring tendon and Achilles tendon.

The fluid-filled sacs that reduce the friction of muscles, tendons and bones during movement are called bursae. Damage to these structures can lead to a painful condition called bursitis . Bursitis may develop in the leg, especially around the knee.

Intense physical activity can cause cracks and fractures ( stress fracture ) in leg bones such as shin and scapula .

A painful problem called shin splint may occur in the shinbone due to an overuse injury.

3. Leg Pain Caused by Lumbar Hernia and Other Spine Problems

Leg pain with low back pain or sharp pain radiating from the hip to the foot; It may indicate a herniated disc or another spinal problem, such as lumbar slippage and canal narrowing that disturbs the nerve roots in the lower back.

4. Piriformis Syndrome

As the sciatic nerve passes deep in the hip, it can sometimes become trapped in or next to the piriformis muscle located here. This can cause sciatica-like leg pain that can be confused with a herniated disc .

5. Joint Calcification in Leg Pain

One of the most common causes of knee, foot and hip joint pain is osteoarthritis , known as calcification . Calcification pain usually lasts for months or years, it can get worse from time to time. There may be a feeling of friction when the joint is moved.

Painful swelling behind the knee (Baker’s cyst) may occur in knee osteoarthritis .

6. Rheumatic Diseases

  • In rheumatoid arthritis , pain, swelling and stiffness can be seen in the hip, knee and foot joints.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis affects joints such as ankles, knees, and hips. It can cause swelling in the toes.
  • In gout , severe pain, swelling and redness may occur in the root of the big toe.
  • In children , the rheumatic disease called juvenile idiopathic arthritis may present with swelling and pain in the leg joints.
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7. Vascular Narrowing and Vascular Occlusion

Atherosclerosis , also known as vascular calcification, causes the narrowing of the part where the blood passes as a result of fat and cholesterol accumulation on the vessel walls. When blood flow is reduced, not enough oxygen can reach the muscles and other tissues. In this case , pain aggravated by exercise may occur.

Blood stream; It can also deteriorate due to rheumatic diseases such as clotting into the vein and vasculitis involving the vein. Sudden events due to vascular occlusion require immediate medical attention.

8. Formation of Clots in the Veins

This event, which is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) , can develop on the basis of risk factors such as being inactive for a long time, smoking, use of birth control pills and heart failure . There may be symptoms such as pain, swelling and redness in the leg .

Clot formation in the veins is a condition that requires urgent medical attention.

9. Various

As a result of the varicose problem, which is characterized by the enlargement of the veins and pooling of blood in the leg, pain may occur in the calves and ankles . The pain increases with standing for a long time, and may be relieved by raising the leg.

Other Diseases Causing Leg Pain

  • Leg Pain and Diabetes: In diabetes, nerve endings can be damaged depending on the process. This problem, called diabetic polyneuropathy , can lead to pain in the form of burning and numbness, primarily in the ends of the body such as feet and hands. In general, foot complaints begin before the hand.
  • Leg-Calve-Perthes Disease : In this disease, which mostly occurs during adolescence, the blood flow to the head of the thigh bone is impaired. Bone tissue dies because of lack of blood and its shape deteriorates over time. In this case , complaints such as pain and limping in the hip, thigh or knee can be seen.
  • Osgood-Schlatter Disease : In this disease, which is seen in growing children and young people ; Painful swelling may occur under the knee with the strain of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. As a result of the pulling force of the tendon, the growth cartilage in the tibia can be separated.
  • Leg Pain Due to Slipping of the Growth Cartilage at the Head of the Thigh Bone : In this problem seen in children; The head of the thigh bone separates from the neck. This causes hip pain. A doctor should be consulted for hip pain in children and teenagers.
  • Cancers: Benign and malignant tumors involving the leg bones or soft tissues can cause leg pain of different characters.
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When to See a Doctor for Leg Pain?

As you can see, leg pain can have many different causes. Many other problems that we cannot count here can also cause leg pain. Sometimes, although the complaints are minor and temporary, leg pain can also indicate a life-threatening problem.

So when should you see a doctor for leg pain?

  • You can see a doctor in cases of swelling in both legs, pain that makes walking difficult, leg pain that lasts longer than a few days or worsens, and varicose veins that are uncomfortable .
  • In cases of fever, redness, swelling or coldness and paleness in the leg, it may be a problem that you should consult a doctor immediately.
  • In cases of shortness of breath with swelling in the legs, severe pain in the leg after sudden trauma or abnormal movement, you should go to the emergency room without delay.

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