The legs provide support to the entire body weight when we are moving around on our feet. There are so many bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves that give stability to the structure of the legs. When there is any injury or health condition that affects any of these structural components, we experience leg ache. Pain in legs can be concentrated in a localized area, such as thighs, shin or knee, or it can affect the entire leg. In some cases, the pain can be felt in just one leg, and in others, it can be felt on both.
Occasional leg pain is somewhat tolerable. However, when it becomes chronic and bothers a person for a long period of time, it is frustrating. It is even worse when the pain is accompanied by other symptoms like weakness, numbness, tingling, swelling, etc. To treat leg ache, first you must know what is its cause.
Common Causes of Leg Aches
Pain in the leg can be due to both traumatic as well as non-traumatic reasons. The characteristics of leg ache is different for every individual cause. A traumatic injury-related pain is mostly localized to the site of injury. On the other hand, when it is a symptom of an underlying health condition, then it can be felt in the entire leg.
❒ Traumatic Injury
Injury to the leg is one of the most common causes of leg pain. One can sustain such injuries while performing sports activities, while exercising, after a bad fall or accident. It may lead to fractured leg bones, strain or tear in the muscles and/or inflammation in the tendons. In such cases, the pain commences soon after the injury. Some injuries occur because of overuse of leg muscles or due to improper footwear.
Shin splint is one such painful condition which is mostly experienced by runners, where the shin bone, located in the frontal part of the leg, is injured because of excessive force exerted on it while running too fast for long hours. Overuse of leg muscles make them fatigued and painful spasm might occur. It is also known as Charley horse. Athletes are more prone to spasms in the leg muscles as they are involved in running and jumping activities.
❒ Varicose Veins
Varicose veins occur when the valves of veins in legs do not work properly. The main function of the valves is to move the deoxygenated blood back to the heart. When the valves do not function normally, the blood remains inside the veins and they become wide and enlarged. This leads to aching and swelling in legs. This condition is mainly responsible for aches in legs during pregnancy.
❒ Nerve Damage
The nerves in the leg get damaged due to some underlying health condition such as vitamin deficiency, smoking, and excessive intake of alcohol. People who have diabetes may suffer from diabetic neuropathy. In this condition the nerves of the body get damaged due to high blood sugar levels. Leg ache in such case is accompanied by tingling sensation, numbness and loss of sensation.
If the sciatic nerve gets trapped in the lower back region due to a slipped disc, then its pain spreads down to the back of the legs as well. Here, the pain is accompanied by pins-and-needles sensation and numbness.
❒ Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Hardening of arteries of the legs is called peripheral artery disease (PAD). Due to hardening of the arteries, there is decrease in blood flow and circulation. This can cause leg pain, specifically pain in the calf and thighs while walking, running or climbing stairs. People who have diabetes, high blood pressure or are obese, are at a higher risk of having peripheral artery disease.
❒ Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease
This causes severe leg pain in children who are in the age group of three to ten years. The exact cause behind this problem is not clearly known. This condition is characterized by lack of proper blood supply to the upper part of the thigh bone. As a result, growth of the thigh bone is halted and the child experiences pain in the thigh and knee.
❒ Other Causes
Besides the causes of leg pain mentioned above, there are some other reasons why a person might suffer from leg ache. These are:
- Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Achilles tendinitis
- Formation of blood clots
- Knee bursitis
Diagnosis and Treatment
The exact cause behind leg aches is identified with the help of physical examination, medical history, blood tests, X-rays, imaging tests, etc. A Doppler ultrasonography is done for detecting peripheral artery disease. A few other factors, such as its accompanying symptoms, physical activities of the patient, timing of the pain, etc., are also taken into consideration. The treatment for aching legs will depend upon its underlying cause. Usually, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug are administered for pain management. Deep vein thrombosis is treated with medicines like anticoagulants and blood thinners that can prevent formation of blood clots. Other circulatory problems are treated with suitable medicines that can improve blood flow to the legs.
If the cause for aching legs is not serious, there are a number of self-care measures that can help in alleviating pain. They are:
- When ache in legs is due to overuse of leg muscles, then they should be rested as much as possible to alleviate the pain.
- Any strains or sprains should be given ice treatment. Ice application reduces pain and inflammation of the injury site.
- Those who have diabetes should try to control fluctuation of their blood sugar levels in order to get relief from pain.
- The condition of varicose veins improves if legs are kept at an elevated position, as it improves blood circulation. Use of compression bandage or support stocking are highly beneficial in this condition as it helps to move the blood accumulated in the veins.
- For relieving pain in legs due to muscular fatigue, a good idea is to soak legs in an Epsom salt bath for half an hour.
- Another effective remedy is to massage legs. This works well for pulled hamstring or cramps. Massaging the strained leg muscles with mustard oil or coconut oil releases the tension from the muscle and provide relief from pain.
This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.