Leg pain is quite a broad definition, encompassing wide range of potential physical factors and health issues. It can range from a mild nuisance that only happens once in a while, to debilitating pain that makes it difficult for someone to function normally. In more serious cases it can make simple daily tasks such as walking and sleeping difficult.
Leg pain can also take different forms. It can be aching, burning, or a throbbing pain, and often comes with various symptoms such as numbness, a pinching sensation, and/or weakness.
Signs and Symptoms of Leg pain
Leg pain that originates from underlying issues with the lower back is usually accompanied with weakness and/or numbness of the legs and feet. However, not all leg pain originates from lower back problems. Depending on its origin and cause, symptoms of leg pain differ in case to case basis.
- Burning sensation – intense pain that radiates from the buttocks down the legs, accompanied with burning sensation or shooting pain that is almost intolerable.
- Leg numbness or tingling sensation – feeling of feet “falling asleep” and gradually returns back to normal. Unnerving pain, or legs not feeling pressure, cold or heat.
- Weakness or heaviness – these two are common complaints with leg pain, and it makes walking and climbing the stairs extremely difficult.
- Constant pain – this usually occurs in the buttocks area, and may not be necessarily leg pain, but could also be linked and may radiate all the way down the leg.
- Positional leg pain – pain that worsens in specific positions, such as sitting, standing or walking.
Possible Causes of Leg pain
In most cases, leg pain results from wear and tear, injuries to the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues. Often the origin of leg pain can be traced to the underlying problem in the lower spine. In this case, leg pain can also be a result of blood clots, poor blood circulation, or varicose veins.
If leg pain originates from the lower back, there’s a strong chance it’s a sciatic nerve problem. Sciatica is characterized by pain and tenderness extending from the back all the way to the hips, and down to the calf. It’s a result of a protrusion of the vertebral disk pressing the sciatic nerve’s roots.
Some of the lower back conditions that directly contribute to leg pain are:
- Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease – Spinal disc losing water, causing it to thin and lose flexibility, which results to pain that radiates down to the legs.
- Lumbar Herniated Disc – Spinal disc herniation puts pressure on the weak spots of the disc, putting pressure to the sciatic nerve, causing pain.
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis – When spinal nerve roots are compressed, usually caused by enlargement of facet joints in the spinal column. Common among the elderly due to the degeneration of the spine.
- Spondylolisthesis – Takes place in the vertebra, compromising its structure, causing it to lose flexibility and stability, which results to painful low back and legs.
Other common causes of leg pain include:
- Achilles tendinitis
- ACL injury
- Baker’s cyst
- Broken leg
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Hamstring injury
- Herniated disk
- Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscle cramp
- Muscle strain
- Patellar tendinitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal stenosis
- Sprains and strains
- Stress fractures
- Torn meniscus
- Varicose veins
Diagnosis and Treatments for Leg Pain
To diagnose leg pain, medical practitioners conduct series of tests to fully understand the origin and extent of the pain and take note of its symptoms. Most diagnosis will include imaging tests, such as x-rays, MRI, CT scan, bone scan and even ultrasound.
For treatment, different types of pain and different causes require different treatment methods.
For sports-related pain and injuries, doctors often recommend the RICE technique, which is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. If the injury is severe, then it requires surgery to repair the damage.
For simple leg pains like cramps, a simple stretching, massaging, and use of pain killers can definitely alleviate the pain. Proper hydration is also important.
For people experiencing claudication, doctors will recommend a more thorough treatment program to tackle cardiovascular risk factors, such as quitting smoking, control hypertension, manage diabetes, reduction of cholesterol, antiplatelet therapy, and walking exercises. Some patients may also require surgical operations to reconstruct the arteries in the leg.