Leg pain is something we all struggle with from time to time, and it can be rooted in several causes. For many reasons, finding the right way to treat and prevent leg pain can be challenging. Today we’re taking a closer look at leg pain, its various causes, and how to prevent it.
Leg pain causes can be attributed to two primary sources: vascular sources and non-vascular sources. While we’ll touch on the non-vascular causes, our primary focus will be the vascular sources of leg pain.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is caused by impaired blood flow to the legs, generally through hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). In addition to causing leg pain, PAD increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
The most common symptom of PAD is painful muscle cramping when walking, climbing, or exercising. The reduced blood flow to the surrounding muscles can cause additional fatigue, burning, and discomfort as well.
Varicose veins are caused by blood pooling in damaged veins, leading to their swelling and hardening. This is a frequent problem encountered by people growing older, and just as commonly painless or symptomless. However, in some cases, varicose veins can lead to pain, swelling, skin darkening, or leg ulcers.
Deep vein thrombosis is the development of a blood clot from poor blood flow in the legs. It can be caused by inactivity, injury, or blood vessel damage. DVT is especially dangerous because of the risk of a clot breaking loose and traveling to the lungs (pulmonary embolism). The risk for DVT increases from cancer or genetic diseases and some medications, creating an increased risk of clots forming. DVT can occur suddenly and without warning, leading to swelling, pain, redness, and head at the source of the clot.
Non-vascular leg pain causes are less common than vascular ones but can still cause painful sensations in the legs.
Nerve damage from diabetic neuropathy, spinal stenosis or trapped nerves, and sciatica can all cause leg pain. Nerve pain is shooting in nature, almost electric feeling, like being pricked with needles or shocks. It’s typically a complex and chronic problem.
Degenerative joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis, can also be a source of leg pain, mainly focused around the knees and ankles. It’s prevalent in older people, developing slowly and affecting the knees, hips, and spine.
Another source of leg pain can be from cellulitis. This bacterial infection attacks the middle layer of the skin and the tissues below. This causes infection, pain, tenderness, and redness. The area will appear tight, shiny, and swollen, and the infection should be treated immediately to avoid serious complications.
Muscular diseases can also cause leg pain. These pains will typically fade when not walking or otherwise using the muscle.
Leg pain at night is most frequently attributed to peripheral arterial disease. Severe PAD can cause additional symptoms, such as impotence, thickening toenails, painful ulcers, leg pain, and cramping at night. While it isn’t the only cause of nightly leg pain, it’s a symptom that vascular specialists commonly associate it with.
Leg pain can be prevented by following some of these simple steps. First, always take time to stretch your legs and any other muscles before and after exercise. A healthy exercise regimen might be around 30 minutes daily, five days a week.
Maintaining a healthy diet will also reduce leg cramps and other pain. Foods high in potassium, like bananas and chicken, are beneficial for this.
Avoid smoking, which can cause vascular damage that contributes to leg pain. Similarly, monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure and take steps. Excessive alcohol consumption can also exacerbate these health problems, so limit your drinking to 1 to 2 drinks per day.
Talk to your doctor or vascular specialist for other specific tips to help treat or prevent your leg pain.
While you can take steps to prevent leg pain, you can’t guarantee it will never affect you. If you’re struggling with leg pain and are unsure of the source, schedule a consultation with South Valley Vascular.
South Valley’s friendly, knowledgeable vascular experts will answer any questions about these conditions and help plan treatment. Schedule an appointment today for more information.