Leg Pain Causes & Conditions
Leg pain can result from a problem in the leg or can radiate from another part of the body, such as the spine or buttocks. Most leg pain is the result of wear and tear, overuse, or injury to the joints, bones or muscles of the leg. Common leg pain causes and conditions include breaks, fractures or strains to the muscles, ligaments or tendons of the legs, along with sciatica, complex regional pain syndrome and phantom limb pain.
Breaks, Fractures, Strains and Sprains
When a bone in the leg is cracked or broken due to a fall, car accident or other injury, the resulting pain can be intense. Leg pain from a bone fracture makes it difficult to walk and may be accompanied by swelling, bruising and tenderness. Even after a bone fracture heals, leg pain can linger.
Stress fractures are tiny bone cracks that are common in the bones of the lower leg and foot. Overuse and repetitive force, such as from long-distance running or repeated jumping, are risk factors for stress fractures. These fractures can cause pain or tenderness in the lower leg that improves with rest but can worsen over time.
Muscle strains are common in the legs, especially among people who play sports like soccer or basketball that involve sprinting along with sudden stops and starts. A hamstring pull or strain causes sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh, and can make it difficult to put weight on the affected leg.
Nerve Damage Conditions
Sciatica can cause leg pain when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed due to pinching or compression. Since this nerve branches downward from the lower spine through the buttocks, hips and legs, associated pain can be felt in any of these areas. Sometimes, sciatic leg pain will be accompanied by numbness or tingling. Ranging from mild and achy to sharp or even excruciating, sciatic pain can feel like an electric jolt within the back of the thigh.
If peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, develops in the feet, associated pain can radiate upward into the legs. Leg pain from peripheral neuropathy can be sharp, throbbing, burning or prickling.
Night (or nocturnal) leg cramps can also be related to nerve problems. These involuntary, painful muscle spasms often occur while lying down. Though night leg cramps are usually centered in the calf muscles, the thigh or foot muscles can also be affected.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that can affect the leg following an injury or trauma. CRPS is believed to be related to damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems and can cause lasting pain and discomfort.
IT Band Syndrome and Tendinitis
Tendinitis is irritation or inflammation of the tendons, the thick bands that connect muscles to bones throughout the body. Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome is a common form of tendinitis that causes tightness and pain in the outside of the hip, leg and knee. Distance runners are prone to IT band syndrome due to running’s repetitive motions. Significant pain can develop when the tendon tightens and rubs against the femur.
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury that occurs when the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone at the back of the leg, becomes strained due to repetitive motion or injury. Achilles tendinitis pain can range from mild to severe and can be aggravated by activities like long runs, sprinting or climbing stairs.
Sometimes, the Achilles tendon actually ruptures, either partially or completely. The associated pain is sudden and sharp and is felt in the back of the ankle and the lower leg. A rupture of this tendon is likely to make it difficult to walk.
Other Leg Pain Causes
Blood clots and varicose veins can cause leg pain, along with poor circulation. Clots cause soreness, cramping and swelling in the leg, while varicose veins can cause aching and discomfort, and may signal other circulatory problems. Poor circulation can cause leg pain, especially while walking or running, and can be a warning sign of more serious conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) or even an impending heart attack.
Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints cause tenderness, soreness or even sharp pain along the shin bone, which runs down the front of the lower leg. Runners and dancers are prone to leg pain from shin splints, particularly if they are just starting out or have just increased their activity level.
If a portion of the leg has been amputated, phantom limb pain can sometimes be felt in the portion of the leg that is no longer there. Phantom leg pain can also be felt as cramping, tingling or itching in the part of the leg that has been removed.
Herniated discs in the lower back can cause intense pain through the buttocks, thighs and calf muscles. This pain can intensify with sudden bodily movements like sneezing or coughing. Numbness can also develop in the legs due to a herniated disc.
Balcones Pain Consultants helps patients understand the reasons behind leg pain and develop customized treatment plans to minimize discomfort and regain strength and mobility.