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Lower Leg Pain: Causes and Treatments


Lower Leg Pain: Veins and Arteries continued...

Varicose veins. Weak valves and vein walls can cause twisted dark blue or purple veins near the surface of the skin. Varicose veins may cause a dull ache, especially after standing. Support stockings can be helpful. Throughout the day, alternate between standing and sitting. If your varicose veins are very painful, see your doctor about other types of treatment.

Infection. A skin or soft tissue infection can be red, tender, swollen, and warm. Warm soaks can help. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics. If symptoms get worse or you develop a fever, call your doctor.

Lower extremity peripheral arterial disease. The lining of arteries in your legs may become damaged and hardened (atherosclerosis). Arteries narrow or become blocked, which decreases blood flow. This can cause lower leg pain or cramping when walking, climbing stairs, or other kinds of exercise (called claudication) because muscles aren't getting enough blood. Resting may help. If arteries become severely narrowed or blocked, pain may persist, even when you rest. Also, wounds may not heal well. If not treated, this disease can cause tissue to die. People at high risk for PAD include people with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and those who smoke.

Treatment includes lifestyle changes such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthier diet
  • Managing weight
  • Exercising, gradually increasing walking distance over time

Other treatment includes medications to control cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure, to help with walking distance, and to help prevent blood clots. Surgery may be needed to improve blood flow to the area.

Lower Leg Pain: Nerves

These are some of the more common sources of lower leg pain brought on by problems in nerves:

Narrowed spinal canal (stenosis) and sciatica. A common cause of a narrowed spinal canal is arthritis of the spine.  Sometimes a herniated disc puts pressure on nearby nerve roots, which can lead to symptoms of sciatica such as:

  • Burning, cramping leg pain when standing or sitting
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Pain may begin in your back and hip, then later extend down into your leg. Sciatica often doesn't get better with brief periods of rest. Treatment may involve resting for a few days, along with taking anti-inflammatories and pain medications. Cold and heat can help with some symptoms. Physical therapy and stretching exercises are often useful. Gradually increase movement over time. Your doctor may also recommend other treatments or surgery if your pain doesn't get better.

Diabetic neuropathy. With diabetes, nerves can be damaged from high blood sugar levels. This is a common complication of diabetes. It can cause pain in both legs along with numbness and less sensation in the lower legs. Treatment includes controlling pain with medications and managing blood sugar levels.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 05, 2012
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