Overuse of muscles is the main cause of most leg pain, although soft tissue damage and injuries to joints and bones can also be contributing factors. When pain from a chronic condition (defined as pain lasting 5 to 6 months or more) is felt in the legs, it’s often linked to a source that originates elsewhere.
When Leg Pain Needs Attention
Leg pain that fails to go away after some initial rest, home remedies (such as the use of heating pad or ice pack), or the use of over-the-counter pain relievers is an indication that it’s something more than muscle strain. If there are no obvious signs of injury to your leg, or pain doesn’t seem relegated to a single area, that can also indicate that a chronic condition is the true source of your discomfort. Leg pain should be evaluated when:
- Pain is sharp and intense or debilitating
- Discomfort becomes progressively worse
- Pain is accompanied by tingling and numbness
Leg Pain and Chronic Conditions
Lingering leg pain is often related to a chronic condition, especially if there are no obvious signs of muscle strain or damage. A patient’s medical history often provides a clue. Patients with a history of back pain, for instance, are more likely to experience pain that radiates to the legs, often along the sciatic nerve. Heart disease and high blood pressure can result in problems with circulation extending to the legs. Diabetes often contributes to leg and foot pain due to related nerve damage experienced as numbness or a burning sensation.
Back and Leg Pain
The longest single nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve, is a frequent source of pain that radiates from the lower back to the legs. The source of pain of this nature is usually identified through process of elimination.
Treating and Managing Chronic Pain
Symptoms of a chronic condition felt in the leg are typically treated with a combination of medication and physical therapy. The purpose of recommending some form of exercise is to strengthen leg muscles, although core strengthening exercises that target all major muscle groups can also help manage symptoms. Pain management may also include:
- Dietary recommendations
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Epidural steroid injections
- Modification of activities
Regardless of the nature of your discomfort, any leg pain that’s not going away is a likely sign that something is wrong. As with any type of chronic pain, early diagnosis and treatment increases the odds of finding meaningful relief.