Pain in the legs can occur as a result of conditions that affect bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves, or skin. Leg pain can occur in the foot, ankle, knee, behind the knee, thigh, down the back of the leg, or in any part of the leg. It can occur at night, while lying down, or while running or exercising, depending upon the cause. Depending on the cause, leg pain can occur in one leg only or in both legs. Typically, the leg pain is a result of tissue inflammation that is caused by injury or disease. Either injury or chronic disease can cause inflammation to any of the tissues of the leg and lead to leg pain. Since the leg contains a number of different structures and tissue types, a wide variety of conditions and injuries can cause leg pain.
Depending on the cause of the pain, other symptoms, like
- aching, or
- a tingling sensation, may accompany leg pain.
Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage from diabetes) is a common cause of tingling, burning, and numbness in the legs that can at times be painful. For diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, it is important to differentiate the exact type and location of any pain in the legs. Peripheral artery disease can cause claudication, or pain that occurs in the legs usually when walking or exercising. Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) can be another cause of leg pain. Pain in the knee and ankle joints of the leg is common with the arthritis conditions. The pain of sciatica (from disc disease of the spine) may radiate down the leg and is another common cause of leg pain.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Causes of Leg Pain
Ankle Pain (Tendinitis)
Ankle pain is commonly due to a sprain or tendinitis. The severity of ankle sprains ranges from mild (which can resolve within...
Arthritis (Joint Inflammation)
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. When joints are inflamed they can develop stiffness, warmth, swelling, redness...
Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures)
A broken bone is a fracture. There are different types of fractures, such as: compressed, open, stress, greenstick,...
Burns (First Aid)
Burn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are...
A bursa is a fluid-filled sac found in the joints that cushions them. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, most commonly...
Cellulitis is an acute spreading bacterial infection below the surface of the skin characterized by redness, warmth,...
Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT)
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease affects the...
Chondromalacia Patella (Patellofemoral Syndrome)
Chondromalacia patella (housemaid's knee or secretary's knee) results from misalignment of the kneecap as it slides over the...
Cold Agglutinin Disease
Cold agglutinin hemolytic anemia or cold agglutinin hemolytic disease, is rare disorder of the autoimmune system. There are two...
Cuts, Scrapes and Puncture Wounds
Cuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds are common, and most people will experience one of these in their lifetime. Evaluating the...
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT, Blood Clot in the Legs)
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the deep veins, and can be caused by broken bones, trauma to a limb, immobility,...
Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes are...
Diabetic Neuropathy (Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment)
Diabetic neuropathy a condition in which nerve damage has occurred as a complication of diabetes. The pain from the nerve...
Fatigue (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment)
Fatigue can be described in various ways. Sometimes fatigue is described as feeling a lack of energy and motivation (both mental...
Gout (Gouty Arthritis)
Buildup of uric acid crystals in a joint causes gouty arthritis. Symptoms and signs include joint pain, swelling, heat, and...
Guillain-Barré Syndrome is an autoimmune disease of the nervous system due to damage to the myelin sheath around nerves....
Hamstring injuries may range from minor strains to major ruptures. A hamstring injury causes spasm, tightness, and tenderness....
A herniated disc may be caused by injury or degeneration from age. Symptoms depend on the location of the herniation and whether...
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
Iliotibial band syndrome is an overuse injury of the thigh and knee. Symptoms include knee pain and possible swelling. Treatment...
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Lumbar stenosis can be caused by degenerative arthritis (the most common cause), tumor, infection, or metabolic disorders...
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease....
Muscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have...
Muscle spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that come on suddenly and are usually quite painful. Dehydration, doing...
Osgood-Schlatter disease, a painful inflammation just below the knee but above the shin, typically affects adolescent boys....
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis caused by inflammation, breakdown, and eventual loss of cartilage in the joints. Also...
Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. Potential causes include injections around the bone, fractures that puncture the skin,...
Peripheral Vascular Disease
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) refers to diseases of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) located outside the heart and...
Piriformis syndrome may develop if the piriformis muscle spasms and compresses the sciatic nerve. This causes buttock pain that...
Pseudogout, a form of arthritis, results when deposits of crystals collect in and around the joints. Symptoms of pseudogout...
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales....
There are many types of quadriceps injuries, including strains, contusions, Osgood-Schlatter disease, patellar tendinitis,...
Restless Leg Syndrome (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Medications, Home Remedies)
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a common cause for painful legs that typically eases with motion, and becomes worse and more...
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints, the tissue around the joints,...
Sciatica pain, caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, typically radiates from the low back to behind the thigh to below the...
Shin splints result from inflammation from injury to the tendon and adjacent tissues in the front of the outer leg. Shin splints...
Sprains and Strains
An injury to a ligament is called a sprain, and an injury to muscle or tendon is called a strain. Sprains and strains may be...
Varicose vein: A dilated (widened) tortuous (twisting) vein, usually involving a superficial vein in the leg, often associated...
Other Causes of Leg Pain
- Bacterial Infections
- Electrolyte Imbalances
- Fungal Infections
- Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease
- Nerve Damage From Any Source
- Rupture of Ligaments or Tendons
- Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis
- Tears in Cartilage
- Ulcerations of the Skin
- Viral Infections
Examples of Medications for Leg Pain
- Ketorolac vs. diclofenac
- Ketorolac vs. ibuprofen (Advil)
- Ketorolac vs. naproxen (Aleve)
- Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)