Read below about lower leg pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your lower leg pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Lower Leg Pain Symptoms

We need our legs for a lot of the activities of daily living and, for the most part, we take them for granted. It is not until you are having lower leg pain that you realize just how important your calves are for ambulation.

The lower leg consists of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, blood vessels, and nerves. Damage or irritation to any of these structures can lead to lower leg pain. As pain is the body's way of telling you something is wrong and it needs to heal, it is wise to pay attention to this pain rather than "fight through it."

Characteristics

Lower leg pain may be associated with these common symptoms:

Lower Leg Pain Causes

For the most part, lower leg pain is due to musculoskeletal injury — any sort of strain, sprain, tear or other damage you may incur from sports or everyday living. Such injuries are inevitable as we use our legs any time we need to get around: to score a soccer goal, or to carry that heavy box down the street. While many of these wear-and-tear injuries are quite minor, other causes of lower leg pain can require urgent treatment.

Musculoskeletal

Causes related to the musculoskeletal system may include the following.

  • Strains and sprains: Overuse or acute injury can cause tears of lower leg muscles, tendons or ligaments [1]. This will cause pain with use of the lower legs.
  • Joint damage: Years of wear-and-tear or acute injury to the joints of the lower leg may cause inflammation of the joints called arthritis [2].
  • Fracture: Acute trauma to the lower leg can cause the tibia, fibula, or other bones to break.
  • Overuse: If you've been hitting the stair-climber too hard or suddenly increased the amount of running you do, your muscles may be sore, causing mild to moderate pain with use.

Vascular

Causes related to the vascular system may include the following [3,4].

  • Clot: Certain people are predisposed to forming blood clots in the lower legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), especially when they are stationary for long periods of time. These clots may cause pain and swelling of the affected leg.
  • Vascular disease: If you experience pain or cramping with exercise or at night in your lower legs, you may have vascular disease. This is seen most commonly in smokers and diabetics.

Infection

Infection-related causes of lower leg pain may include the following [5].

  • Tissue infection: Infection of the skin or soft tissues of the lower leg can cause localized pain, usually irritated by touch.
  • Joint infection: Infections of the knee, ankle, or toe joints can cause pain in the lower leg which is usually aggravated by movement.

Autoimmune

Certain autoimmune diseases attack the joints of the lower legs, such as multiple sclerosis, leading to damage, inflammation, and pain.

Nervous

A peripheral nerve injury, such as oneimpacting the nerves that innervate the lower leg, can cause pain.

Metabolic

Metabolic-related causes may include the following.

  • Electrolyte imbalance: Dehydration and resultant electrolyte imbalance may cause lower leg cramping and pain, especially if you are low in potassium.
  • Hereditary: Some rare hereditary disorders can cause painful cramping of the muscles.

6 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced lower leg pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)

    Shin splints is when there is pain in the front part of the lower leg. The pain is from the swelling of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shin.

    Days to weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shin pain, dull, achy shin pain, pain in the inside of the shin, shin pain from overuse, irregular period
    Symptoms that always occur with shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome):
    shin pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Calf

    Repetitive strain injury of the calf is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Duplicate: Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    lower leg numbness, calf pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the calf:
    calf pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the calf:
    recent calf injury, severe calf pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Restless Legs Syndrome (Rls)

    Restless Legs Syndrome is a common condition characterized by an urge to move the legs in order to stop unpleasant sensations.

    RLS is a chronic and incurable condition, but many have their symptoms improve with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    daytime sleepiness, trouble sleeping, tingling lower leg, restless legs, difficulty falling asleep
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Calf Strain

    A strain, commonly called a "pulled muscle," is when a muscle becomes overstretched, and microscopic tears occur. A calf strain happens when one of the muscles on the back of the lower leg is pulled.

    With proper medical attention, this condition should completely resolve.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one calf, moderate calf pain, calf pain, sports injury, soccer injury
    Symptoms that always occur with calf strain:
    pain in one calf
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Peripheral Arterial Disease (Pad)

    Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when the big blood vessels, called arteries, become too narrow due to clumps of fat (called plaques) building up inside the walls. If arteries become too narrow, not enough oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles, skin, and organs. The arteries in the legs are often affected first, as they are the furthest from the heart.At first, PAD has no symptoms. As it gets worse, leg pain is likely to develop, leading to cramps in the calf, thigh, foot, or buttock upon exercise. PAD can also increase the risk of a blood clot if a piece of plaque detaches, leading to serious complications such as a heart attack or stroke.Peripheral artery disease is much more common in smokers and in people with diabetes. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, and not getting much exercise also can put one at higher risk.

    The prognosis of this disease is highly variable and depends heavily on habits, medical history, and genetics. Peripheral artery disease is a chronic non-life threatening condition. Managing the disease, however, is very important in reducing the risk for stroke and heart attacks, so make sure to follow-up with a physician.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    leg numbness, spontaneous foot pain, decreased exercise tolerance, cold feet, thigh pain
    Symptoms that never occur with peripheral arterial disease (pad):
    calf pain from an injury, thigh pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy

    Nerve damage in the limbs can be caused by diabetes, toxic substances, immune system issues and low vitamin levels. However, in about one of every four cases no cause can be found and then the condition is called 'idiopathic'. Symptoms of nerve damage can be (burning) pain sensations, numbness, tingling and weakness in hands, feet or lower legs.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Lower Leg Pain Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Most causes of lower leg pain are just aches and pains caused by minor injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the lower leg. These types of injuries can be managed at home quite easily. However, if you experience sudden-onset, moderate to severe pain with no obvious cause or find yourself with an acute injury so severe it is difficult to walk, you should seek medical attention promptly.

At-home treatments

Several treatments can be tried at home to soothe lower leg pain. The first four methods can be remembered with the mnemonic RICE [1].

  • Rest: Most minor injuries will improve with time and rest as the body heals itself.
  • Ice: Cold packs can diminish inflammation of aggravated tissues, alleviating some pain.
  • Compression: A moderately tight wrap around an injured joint can help diminish inflammation.
  • Elevation: Elevating an injured ankle or lower leg can reduce swelling.
  • Stretching: Light stretching of an injured extremity helps with the healing process and prevents the muscles from getting too tight.
  • Rehydration: Drinking fluids with electrolytes can help leg pain caused by cramping when dehydrated.
  • Acetaminophen or NSAIDs: Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduce pain and inflammation.

Professional treatments

Treatments that will need to be recommended by your medical provider may include the following below. It is important to seek consultation if your lower leg pain worsens or persists.

  • Physical exam: A healthcare provider will examine the leg to help diagnose the cause of the pain.
  • Imaging: Ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans may be required to diagnose the cause of the leg pain.
  • Physical therapy: Oftentimes physical therapy is the most effective means to heal an injured extremity.
  • Pain medication: Pain medications can help reduce pain acutely.
  • Surgery: Some conditions causing lower leg pain may require surgery to repair.
  • Anticoagulation: Lower leg pain caused by clots usually requires the use of blood-thinning medications to resolve.

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 for the following

You should seek help without delay if you have:

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Lower Leg Pain

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Where on your lower leg are you experiencing pain?
  • Q.What is your body mass?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our lower leg pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Lower Leg Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced lower leg pain have also experienced:

    • 12% Upper Leg Pain
    • 8% Hip Pain
    • 6% Knee Pain
  • People who have experienced lower leg pain were most often matched with:

    • 60% Restless Legs Syndrome (Rls)
    • 20% Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)
    • 20% Repetitive Strain Injury of the Calf
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Sprains, strains and other soft-tissue injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated July 2015. OrthoInfo Link
  2. Ebell MH. Osteoarthritis: Rapid evidence review. American Family Physician. 2018;97(8):523-6. AAFP Link
  3. Peripheral vascular disease. American Health Network. AHNI Link
  4. Understand your risk for excessive blood clotting. American Heart Association. AHA Link
  5. Mader JT, Calhoun J. Bone, Joint, and Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections. Baron S, eds. In: Medical Microbiology. 4th ed. Galveston, TX: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. NCBI Link