Many different conditions and ailments can contribute to leg aches and pain. Leg pain may affect a small, specific area or may radiate to different areas. While most leg pain is not due to severe conditions, you should see a doctor if you experience persistent or severe leg pain.
Muscle cramps are some of the most common causes of leg pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dehydration, overuse, stagnant positioning and low levels of calcium, sodium, magnesium or potassium in the blood can lead to muscle cramps. Certain medications, including diuretics and cholesterol-lowering drugs can also contribute to cramping.
Injury, such as a fracture, inflamed tendon, torn ligaments, pulled hamstrings or shin splints can cause leg pain that ranges from mild to severe. Joint pain in the knee and hip from injury or arthritis is another common cause of leg pain, particularly in the elderly. Pinched nerves, especially the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back to the foot, can cause acute or chronic leg pain.
Blood clots, nerve damage and varicose veins can also lead to leg pain. Blood clots in the legs can lead to a condition known as deep vein thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis can be fatal if left untreated. The clot can travel to the lungs or other major organs. Cancerous and benign bone tumors are rare but can contribute to leg aches and pain.
You can often treat mild leg pain from a minor injury or chronic conditions, such as arthritis, at home. Elevating your leg can help relieve swelling and resting will usually help the pain subside.
Apply ice to minor bruises and injuries to help relieve pain and inflammation for 15 minutes at a time at least four times a day, recommends the National Institutes of Health.
You can wear support hose or elastic bandages to help relieve pain caused by varicose veins. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and aspirin, can help relieve mild to moderate pain.
Doctors use several different diagnostic tests to determine the cause of leg pain. If you injured your leg, your doctor will likely order an X-ray and possibly an MRI. Ultrasounds help identify blood clots and arteriograms help doctors check the blood flow in your leg by taking X-ray images after injecting dye into your leg. In rare cases where a doctor suspects a bone tumor, he may order a bone scan or bone biopsy.
Medical treatment for leg pain depends on the source of the pain. Injuries may require casting, a leg brace or even surgery in extreme cases. Prescription anticoagulants and a drug called warfarin are common to treat deep vein thrombosis.
Large blood clots may require surgical removal. Your doctor may remove varicose veins that cause severe pain or poor blood flow with a surgical procedure known as vein stripping. Prescription painkillers can help relieve short-term leg pain, though it is best to avoid them for long-term use due to the risk of dependency and side effects.
You cannot always prevent leg pain, especially pain due to injury. Drink plenty of fluids and eat a nutritious diet to avoid dehydration and low nutrient levels. Avoid alcohol and tobacco to reduce your risk of nerve damage. Warm up and cool down properly when exercising to avoid muscle strains due to overuse. Stretching your leg muscles regularly can help avoid cramping.