The lower parts of your legs take the brunt of your day-to-day life. You shouldn’t have to be in pain, though.
Medical treatments can help if your doctor says you have a condition like leg cramps, blood clots, or issues with the nerves. But you can do things at home that help, too.
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
Muscle cramp. It can strike in your sleep or in the middle of the day. This sudden, tight, intense lower leg pain is sometimes called a "charley horse." When it takes a grip, it can get worse quickly. It happens when your muscles are tired or dehydrated. Drink more water if you're prone to leg cramps.
It might help to gently stretch or massage the area where your muscle has tensed up. Stretch your legs properly before you exercise, too.
Shin splints. You can feel this pain right up the front of your calf. The muscles and flesh along the edge of the shin bone become inflamed, so it hurts to walk, run, or jump. Doing activity over and over on hard surfaces can bring this on. You may also be more likely to get shin splints if you have flat feet or your feet turn outward.
Rest your legs to feel better. Ice helps. So can anti-inflammatory meds such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, if your doctor says these are safe for you. You can buy them over the counter.
You might want to see your doctor if the pain stays. Try not to do anything that makes your leg hurt more. Once it feels a little better, do some stretches. The next time out, wear comfortable, supportive shoes. And don't run on hard surfaces if possible.
Tendinitis. One of the first warning signs you have an inflamed Achilles tendon is pain in your lower calf, near the back of your heel. It’s a common injury that makes the tendon swell, stretch, or tear. You can get it from overworking the calf muscle or climbing the stairs. It might stick around for a long time, too.
Apply ice to get some relief. Or take anti-inflammatories if your doctor says they're okay for you. Avoid doing anything that causes pain. When it hurts less, stretch and strengthen your leg.
If your pain feels severe, your Achilles tendon may be torn. Another possible sign of a tear is having trouble pointing your toe downward. Your doctor may inject medicine into the inflamed area. You might need surgery to repair the damage.
Broken bones or sprains. Say you twist your ankle and get a mild sprain. Try the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
For a more severe sprain or a broken bone (fracture), apply ice and see your doctor right away. You may need a cast or brace. You may also need physical therapy.
It will take time, but gradually you'll be able to walk comfortably, again. Go slow as you gradually increase your strength and put weight on the injured leg.
Veins and Clots
Blood clot. When your blood thickens in a vein and clumps together, it can turn into a clot. One that develops in a vein deep in the body is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Most deep-vein blood clots happen in the lower leg or thigh. They're more likely to happen if you're inactive for long periods, like on a long flight or car ride. You're also at risk if you're overweight, or you smoke, or take certain medications.
There's a chance a clot could break off into your bloodstream and travel to an artery in the lungs. If so, it could block blood flow. This is a serious condition called pulmonary embolism.
If you think you might have a blood clot, go to your doctor or emergency room right away.
Medications, support stockings, and weight loss are types of treatments to help you avoid getting clots.
Varicose veins. You might be familiar with these, because you can see them at the surface of the skin. They appear to be twisted, dark blue or purple veins, and are caused by weak valves and vein walls. They may cause a dull ache, especially after standing.
Try support stockings to relieve the pain. And throughout the day, switch between standing and sitting. See your doctor about other types of treatment if your varicose veins are very painful.
Lower-extremity peripheral arterial disease. This can happen when the arteries in your legs become damaged and hardened. When your arteries narrow or become blocked, your legs miss out on the blood flow they need. That can cause your lower leg to cramp and feel pain when you walk, climb stairs, or do other kinds of exercise, because muscles aren't getting enough blood.
Resting helps. But if your arteries become severely narrowed or blocked, the pain may persist, even when you rest. Also, wounds may not heal well.
You're more likely to get this condition if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or you smoke or are obese.
Fix it with a change of lifestyle:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Eat healthier.
- Manage your weight.
Other treatments include medications to control cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Some people need surgery to improve blood flow to the area.
Lower Leg Pain: Nerves
The source of some pain is problems with your 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
Pain may begin in your back and hip, then later extend down into your leg. Rest is often the cure for other pains of the leg, but not this one. It doesn’t help sciatica.
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 is a common complication of diabetes. Nerves can be damaged from high blood sugar levels. It can cause pain in both of your legs along with numbness and less sensation in the lower legs.
Talk to your doctor about medications to control the pain and help manage your blood sugar levels.