Helps you check symptoms of leg problems not caused by injury. Covers symptoms like pain, swelling, cramps, numbness, tingling, weakness, and lumps and bumps under the skin. Includes pictures of bones of lower leg, thigh, and muscles and tendons.
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
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
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.
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
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that the child can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep,
and can't do anything else except focus on the pain. No one can tolerate severe
pain for more than a few hours.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt the child's normal activities and
sleep, but the child can tolerate it for hours or days.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The child notices and may complain of the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt his or her sleep or activities.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood
supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons
for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn
blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color
returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area
looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and
this change does not go away.
If your leg problem does not
require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to
help relieve pain, swelling, stiffness or muscle cramps.
Rest and protect a stiff
or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be
causing your pain or soreness.
reduce pain and swelling. Apply
ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice
or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
For the first 48 hours, avoid things that
might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic
After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply
heat and begin
gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help
restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between
heat and cold treatments.
Compression, or wrapping the
sore area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease
swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, since this can cause more swelling below the
area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too
tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the
area below the bandage. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to use a wrap
for longer than 48 to 72 hours; a more serious problem may be
Elevate the area on pillows while
applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at
or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.
Remove all rings, anklets, or any other jewelry that goes around an extremity. It
will be harder to remove the jewelry after swelling
Gently rub sore or pulled muscles to relieve pain. Do not rub or massage a calf that is swollen.
Stand and move your legs. Gentle motion may
help with cramps that are brought on by exercise.
Drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will
often help leg cramps. For more information about the home treatment of muscle
cramps that are often caused by dehydration from exercise or heat, see the
If you think your child is
growing pains, try warmth and massage to relieve
discomfort in the legs. Do not rub or massage a calf that is swollen.
For leg cramps, consider wearing support stockings during the day, and
take frequent rest periods (with your feet up). If leg cramps occur during
pregnancy, make sure you are eating a diet rich in
magnesium. Talk with your doctor about taking a
calcium supplement. He or she may recommend a calcium supplement that does not
Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it
decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a non-prescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Drink extra water or an electrolyte replacement
drink (such as Gatorade or Powerade) before, during, and after exercise,
especially during hot or humid weather.
Warm up well and stretch
before any activity. Stretch after exercise to keep hot muscles from shortening
Avoid exercises and activities that cause you to
point your toes, and do not wear high-heeled shoes.
correct techniques (movements) or positions during activities so that you do
not strain your muscles. Use good posture while exercising.
equipment appropriate to your size, strength, and ability.
overusing your leg doing repeated movements that can inflame or irritate your
tendon. In daily routines or hobbies, think about
activities in which you make repeated leg movements, and change the way you do
the activities, if possible, to prevent leg problems from
Consider taking lessons to learn the proper technique
for sports. Have a trainer or person who is familiar with sports equipment
check your equipment to see if it is well suited for your level of ability,
body size, and body strength.
If you feel that certain activities
at your workplace are causing pain or soreness from overuse, talk to your human
resources department for information on alternative ways of doing your job or
to discuss equipment modifications or other job assignments.
cramps wake you at night, take a warm bath and do some stretching exercises
before going to bed. Keep your legs warm, and try not to point your toes while
Cut down on the amount of salt (sodium) you use in your diet. Sodium can be hidden in
foods such as cheese, canned soups, and salad dressing. Consider making your
own salt substitute. Talk to your doctor before trying a
Get up and walk around for a few minutes every
hour if you sit for long periods. Gentle motion may help reduce swelling in the
feet and ankles.
Avoid tight-fitting clothing or straps around the
waist or upper legs that may affect circulation and feeling in the legs.
Keep bones strong
Eat a nutritious diet with enough
vitamin D. (Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.)
Calcium is found in dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt; dark
green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli; and other
Exercise and stay active. It is best to do weight-bearing
exercise (such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting
weights) for 45 to 60 minutes at least 4 days a week. Weight-bearing exercises
stimulate new bone growth by working the muscles and bones against gravity.
Exercises that are not weight-bearing, such as swimming, are good for your
general health but do not stimulate new bone growth. Talk to your doctor about
an exercise program that is right for you. Begin slowly, especially if you have
been inactive. For more information, see the topic
Lose weight. Being overweight
increases your risk for leg problems and makes it more difficult to do
Don't drink more than 2 alcoholic drinks
a day if you are a man, or 1 alcoholic drink a day if you are a woman. People
who drink more than this may be at higher risk for weakening bones (osteoporosis). Drinking alcohol also increases your
risk of falls.
Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking
puts you at a much higher risk for developing osteoporosis. It also interferes
with blood supply and healing. For more information, see the topic
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.