If you have experienced leg swelling, leg cramps, pulled muscles, nerve pinching or leg pain, you have probably wondered if the pain is a sign of something serious. In this article, we will discuss when leg pain is normal vs when it is a cause for serious concern. These insights may allay some of your anxiety and help you know when you need to visit your doctor or see a specialist.
When Is Leg Pain Normal?
Exercise, mild illness, or medications can cause aches, pains, and cramps. Here we explore these in more detail to help you distinguish between “normal” pain and leg pain that could be cause for concern.
Leg Soreness and Cramps After Exercise
Some leg pain with exercise is normal and not a cause for worry. If it’s leg day at the gym or you just started a new exercise routine, your legs may be sore on recovery day. You just need to get used to your new exercise routine. Even if leg pain isn’t ‘normal’ for you, leg cramps can occur if you become dehydrated or have an electrolyte deficiency with your exercise.
Some simple changes can help. Wearing graduated compression socks designed for exercise can improve your performance and speed recovery afterwards. And you can limit your leg cramps by increasing your potassium with a daily banana or avocado added to your diet. Staying hydrated and warming up with stretches before your workout and cooling down with a light walk and stretching can help prevent cramps as well.
📞 Call your doctor if you have leg pain or cramping that does not go away on its own.
If you are a weekend warrior, you have likely experienced some leg pain. Minor pain that develops with overuse or from an injury should be treated with “ICE”: Immobilization, Compression and Elevation. If you cannot bear weight, have an obvious fracture or dislocation, or your symptoms do not improve with ICE, go to your nearest emergency room.
Leg pain can be a side-effect of some illnesses. Body aches including leg pain are common with influenza. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and know when to call your doctor. Aches and pain are more common if you have arthritis, fibromyalgia, or autoimmune problems. See you doctor if your pain is more than you normally experience.
A number of medications can cause leg cramps and aches. The most likely ones are your cholesterol medications. If you have worsening leg cramps or pain, ask your doctor if it could be your medications..
📞 Call your doctor if your condition does not improve, is new or progressing, and you do not know why.
When is Leg Pain NOT Normal?
Leg pain coupled with other symptoms can be a sign of an underlying health condition, serious injury, and even medical emergencies. Watch out for these signs and symptoms.
Life Threatening Exercise Induced Leg Pain
Rhabdomyolysis occurs when excessive exercise leads to muscle breakdown. Though rare, it can be seen after aggressive cross training, exercise induced heat strokes, and in military boot-camp training. The muscle rapidly breaks down causing muscle pain, weakness, nausea and vomiting, confusion, irregular heart rate, and kidney damage. The urine often turns the color of ‘tea’ with rhabdomyolysis.
⚠️Emergency: If you think you or a loved one has rhabdomyolysis, seek immediate emergency medical care. With proper medical care, a recovery is possible.
Claudication and Leg Pain
If you have leg pain when you exercise that resolves with a short period of rest, you may have a condition known as claudication. Claudication can be grouped into three general categories: arterial, venous and neurological.
Leg pain and muscle cramps that develop when you exercise and improve with rest can be a sign of peripheral artery disease (PAD) known as arterial claudication. If you have a blockage in the arteries, your muscles may not be getting enough blood and oxygen when you exercise. With a short period of rest, your muscles recover and the pain abates.
Symptoms of arterial claudication can be evaluated with a non-invasive office based ultrasound and segmental arterial blood flow test. These test can help identify the area and severity of an arterial blockage in your legs. Pursuing healthy arterial flow includes an exercise program, weight management, smoking cessation, treatment of lipid or cholesterol abnormalities, and blood pressure control.
📞 If you have leg cramps that begin when you exercise and resolves when you rest for 10-15 minutes, you may have arterial disease. See a vascular specialist for an evaluation.
Leg pain and swelling that develop with exercise and slowly improve with rest and elevation of your legs could be a sign of venous claudication.
Venous claudication is caused by a blockage in the deep veins of the legs or pelvis. Arterial blood flow into the legs increases with exercise, but it’s return to the heart via the deep veins is impeded causing venous congestion, leg swelling, and pain. With rest and leg elevation, the deep veins slowly empty and the pain and swelling resolve.
Leg elevation and wearing compression hose are a mainstay of conservative care for venous claudication. Diagnosing the location of the blockage and developing a plan to improve the venous outflow is part of the solution. A number of minimally invasive techniques are now available to treat venous outflow obstruction.
📞 If you have signs or symptoms of venous claudication you should call Vein Specialists of the South for an evaluation.