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Leg pain

Leg pain
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Leg pain

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What is leg pain?

Leg pain can be described as any feeling of pain or discomfort in the area between your groin and ankle.

Depending on the cause, leg pain can vary from moderate to severe, and the symptoms may be continuous (non-stop) or intermittent (come and go).

Leg pain can be acute, meaning it comes on quickly and then goes away. Or it can last for weeks or months. Then it is called chronic leg pain. For some people, chronic leg pain can last for years and can affect their lives.

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What symptoms are related to leg pain?

Leg pain can affect just a small area of the leg, or it can cover a wide area or even the whole leg. The pain can be dull or sharp, or it might be burning, tingly or numb. You might also have pain in your buttock, lower back or spine, or foot. Make a note if both legs look the same, or if one is different from the other.

Other signs and symptoms that can occur with leg pain include:

  • swelling
  • varicose veins
  • sores or ulcers
  • redness, swelling or warmth
  • feeling generally unwell, if you have an infection or fracture
  • changes in the colour of the leg or feet if it’s a problem with your nerves
  • a slow healing wound

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What causes leg pain?

There are many different causes of pain in the leg. They include:

  • a cramp
  • a minor injury such as a knock, bump or bruise
  • a fracture
  • an infection
  • pain from wear and tear, overuse, or injuries in joints or bones or in muscles
  • pain from using your leg too much, such as muscle strains and soreness
  • pain from using your leg too little, such as pins and needles or muscle stiffness
  • pain from infection, such as ulcers and infected blisters
  • pain from problems with blood vessels, such as blood clots and poor circulation
  • pain coming from your back, such as sciatica and nerve pain
  • pain from problems with nerves, such as the pain of diabetic nerve troubles
  • growing pains (in children)

Pain in the leg can also be a part of chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

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How is leg pain treated?

Treatment for leg pain depends on the cause. It can often be treated at home, but if pain is sudden, severe, or persistent, or if there are other symptoms, medical attention may be necessary.

If you suddenly develop pain from an injury, use the RICE method:

  • Rest: avoid putting weight on your leg where possible.
  • Ice: put an icepack on the sore area for 20 minutes at a time, using a covered icepack or bag of frozen peas. Repeat every 2 to 3 hours for 2 to 3 days.
  • Compression: use compresses and bandages.
  • Elevation: keep it up when you’re resting.

You can take simple painkillers like paracetamol or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.

If you have muscle cramps, gently stretching the muscles should help. This is true for many other types of leg pain, too.

If you have pins and needles, just moving around should ease the discomfort.

If the pain doesn’t go away, your doctor might involve a physiotherapist, podiatrist or other health professional, depending on the cause. You might need medication such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatories, and some people may need surgery.

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When should I see a doctor?

Sometimes, leg pain can signal something more serious like a fracture, deep vein thrombosis or compartment syndrome.

Seek medical attention urgently if:

  • the leg is swollen
  • it looks deformed or you can’t use it properly
  • it is unusually cool or pale
  • it is numb and weak
  • it is red and warm
  • both legs are swollen and you have breathing problems
  • the pain is getting worse

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have signs of infection, like a fever, calf pain after going on a long journey, or any serious symptoms that come on with no explanation.

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Can leg pain be prevented?

You can prevent strains and injuries by always warming up before exercise and cooling down and stretching afterwards. Build up physical activity gradually and don’t take on too much too quickly.

It’s a good idea to replace worn out shoes and wear appropriate footwear for the activity you’re doing.

Looking after your health generally — getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, getting some regular exercise, not smoking, being a healthy weight — might also help.

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Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your leg pain, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019

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