Leg Pain

Leg pain is a very common symptom. You may have a mild leg muscle cramp or severe shooting pains in your leg. Treatment will depend on the cause. You can treat mild pain at home, but you should seek medical treatment for more severe, sudden or long-lasting pain.


What is leg pain?

Pain in your legs is a common symptom with many different possible causes. Leg pains may occur due to overuse or from general wear and tear. You may simply have a muscle cramp, but it may also happen after some type of sports injury or because of a certain health condition. You may have leg pain at night. You may also be experiencing left leg pain or right leg pain. You may have a sharp, shooting pain in your leg or a dull ache. Causes of leg pain may be related to many different parts of your body, including your:

Treatment for your leg pain will depend on the cause. You can usually treat your pain at home. But it’s important to seek medical treatment if you have sudden, severe or long-lasting pain.


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Possible Causes

What causes leg pain?

Leg pain causes vary widely, from muscle cramps to serious health conditions that require immediate treatment.

Muscle cramps

If you have leg muscle pain, you may be experiencing a muscle cramp. Other names for a muscle cramp include a muscle spasm or a charley horse. You may get a muscle cramp due to:

  • Dehydration: Dehydration is a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough water to function properly.
  • Medications: Certain medications, like statins and diuretics, can cause cramping in your muscles.


Injuries are a common reason why you’d have leg pain. They can occur due to:

  • Muscle strains: A muscle strain is an injury that happens when you pull, or tear, a muscle. It’s one of the most common injuries, especially among athletes.
  • Shin splints: Shin splints occur when the tissues, muscles or tendons around your shin bone (tibia) become irritated and inflamed.
  • Stress fractures: A stress fractures is another common sports injury. It occurs when repeated force on a bone causes a small crack to form.
  • Tendinitis: Also spelled tendonitis, this condition happens when the tendons between your bones and muscles become inflamed.

Blood flow issues

Problems with how your blood flows can cause leg pain.

  • Varicose veins: Varicose veins occur when blood backs up inside your veins. This makes them look purple or blue under your skin.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): PAD is a condition that causes fat and cholesterol (plaque) to collect in your arteries, causing them to narrow.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT happens when you have a blood clot in a deep vein, which keeps your blood from flowing properly in your vein. This can be a dangerous condition, so you need to get help quickly.

Nerve problems

If you have nerve pain in your legs, you may be experiencing one of the following conditions:

  • Sciatica: Sciatica is a common condition that involves the nerves in your legs, back and butt.
  • Meralgia paresthetica (burning thigh): This is a painful condition that causes a burning sensation in your thigh. You may also feel aching, numbness or stabbing pain in your leg.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is a group of nerve diseases that affect a specific part of your nervous system. It can affect many different body parts, including your legs.

Other health conditions

  • Electrolyte imbalance: An electrolyte imbalance occurs when you have too few or too many electrolytes in your body. This may be a sign of an issue with your liver, heart or kidneys.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a very common condition that causes joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. There are more than 100 types of arthritis.
  • Gout: Gout is one type of inflammatory arthritis that causes swelling and pain in your joints. It occurs when you have a buildup of uric acid in your body.
  • Restless legs syndrome: This is a condition where you have the urge to move your legs when you’re at rest. This can interfere with sleep.

Less common issues that cause leg pain include bone conditions, like bone cancer and Paget’s disease of the bone (osteitis deformans), as well as infections like cellulitis and osteomyelitis.

Care and Treatment

How do you get rid of leg pain immediately?

If you have a mild case of leg pain, like pain from overuse or muscle cramps, you can try the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • R — Rest: Rest your leg as much as possible.
  • I — Ice: Apply ice to the area that hurts for 15 minutes at a time.
  • C — Compression: Gently wrap your leg in a bandage.
  • E — Elevation: Elevate your leg above your heart.

You can also try gently massaging and stretching your leg muscles. Depending on your condition, you may want to take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, like a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) (Advil®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®).

To relieve other types of pain, like nerve pain or severe leg pain at night, talk to your healthcare provider.


Can leg pain be prevented?

You can prevent some forms of leg pain by remembering to stretch your muscles before and after participating in any kind of physical activity. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration. It’s also important to eat foods containing lots of potassium, like chicken and bananas. This can help you prevent injuries to the muscles and tendons in your legs.

To prevent health conditions that can cause leg nerve damage:

  • Participate in some form of physical activity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight for you.
  • Quit smoking. Ask your provider for helpful resources.
  • Track your blood pressure and cholesterol and take steps to keep them at a healthy level.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about specific ways you can prevent leg pain.

When To Call the Doctor

When should leg pain be treated by a healthcare provider?

You might wonder when to worry about leg pain. It’s important to contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your leg is red and swollen, or black and blue.
  • Your leg is cold and pale.
  • Your leg pain worsens when you’re active and gets better with rest.
  • At-home treatment options aren’t helping with your pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • You’re taking any medications that may be causing the pain. But don’t stop taking them until you talk to your provider.

If you have leg pain that worsens with activity, it’s likely arthritic and can be nonurgently evaluated.

You should be evaluated urgently if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Cellulitis or joint infection: Redness and pain of the skin or around a joint, especially with any fevers.
  • DVT: You notice new swelling of one leg that may be associated with redness or pain. Risk factors for having a DVT include recent travel, surgery or an illness that may have limited your ability to walk around as regularly.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Leg pain is a very common symptom with many different possible causes. It may be a mild, nagging pain that goes away with massage and a pain reliever. Or it may be severe, making it impossible for you to stand or walk. Don’t try to diagnose yourself. If your pain is that serious, you should see a healthcare provider for help right away. The cause of your pain may be something serious that needs immediate treatment.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/20/2024.

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