Leg Problems, Noninjury
Leg Problems, Noninjury
Minor leg problems, such as sore muscles, are common. Leg problems
commonly occur during sports or recreational activities, work-related tasks,
and work or projects around the home. Leg problems also can be caused by
injuries. If you think your leg problem is related to an injury, see the topic
Leg problems may be minor or serious and may
include symptoms such as pain, swelling, cramps, numbness, tingling, weakness,
or changes in temperature or color. Symptoms often develop from exercise,
everyday wear and tear, or overuse.
Older adults have a higher risk
for leg problems because they lose muscle mass as they age. Children may have
leg problems for the same reasons as adults or for reasons specific to
children. Problems are often caused by overactivity or the rapid growth of bone
and muscle that occurs in children.
It may be helpful to know what the bones of the thigh and lower leg look like as well as the muscles and tendons to better understand leg problems. Leg problems that are not related to a specific injury have
- Problems can occur when you "overdo" an
activity, do the same activity repeatedly, or increase your exercise. This may be called an overuse injury even though you did not have an actual injury. Examples of overuse injuries includes
stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, or other muscle strains or tears.
Muscle cramps can be caused by activity or
dehydration, especially when you exercise in the heat. For more information, see the topic
- Problems that affect the
blood vessels (vascular disease) can include
peripheral arterial disease, inflammation of a vein
(phlebitis), or a blood clot (thrombophlebitis).
- A blood clot near the surface of the skin
may cause only minor problems, while a clot in a deep vein may be more serious.
Recent surgery, especially on bones or the pelvic or urinary organs, increases
the risk of blood clots, especially in deep leg veins. Prolonged bed rest and
inactivity, including sitting or standing in one position for long periods of
time, or prolonged immobilization of a limb, such as in a cast or splint, also
may increase the risk of blood clots.
- Problems affecting the
arteries (peripheral arterial disease) can cause cramping pain that occurs with
predictable amounts of exercise, such as walking a short distance, but improves
- Other diseases, such as
rheumatoid arthritis, and
lupus, can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling.
transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a
stroke can cause numbness, tingling, or loss of
function in one or both legs.
Some leg problems are seen only in children, such as swelling
at the top of the shinbone (Osgood-Schlatter disease) and swelling
and pain in the knee joint (juvenile idiopathic arthritis).
Growing pains are common among rapidly growing
children and teens and are probably caused by differences in growth rates
of muscle, bone, and soft tissue. These pains often last for 1 or 2 hours at a
time and can wake a child from sleep.
Swollen feet are common
after you have been sitting or standing for long periods of time or during hot
or humid weather. Sitting or lying down and elevating your legs will often
relieve this type of swelling. Conditions that put increased pressure on the
belly and pelvis, such as
obesity and pregnancy, also can cause swelling in the
feet and ankles and
- Varicose veins can affect both men and women and
may only cause a problem in one leg. For more information, see the topic
- The swelling in the feet
and ankles that occurs during pregnancy usually gets worse toward the end of
the pregnancy and goes away after delivery. For more information, see the topic
medicines can cause problems in the legs. For example,
birth control pills and other hormones can increase your risk of blood clots,
while water pills (diuretics), heart medicines, and cholesterol-lowering
medicines (statins) can cause muscle cramps.
Some leg problems are
only present at night:
- Restless legs syndrome causes an
intense, often irresistible urge to move the legs. This can interrupt sleep
make you overly tired during the day. You may have a "pins-and-needles,"
prickling, creeping, crawling, tingling, and sometimes painful feeling in your
legs. Moving your legs can provide short-term relief. For more information, see the topic Restless Legs Syndrome.
- Nighttime leg
cramps are a sudden tightening (contraction) of the leg muscles in the calf,
thigh, or foot. They often occur just as you are falling asleep or waking up.
They can be painful and can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Walking
or stretching your leg can sometimes help relieve nighttime leg cramps.
Most minor leg problems will heal on their own, and home
treatment may be all that is needed to relieve symptoms and promote healing.
But serious leg problems also may occur and require prompt evaluation by a
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
September 19, 2012
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