Even if you aren't particularly active, your legs are. After all, they have to support the rest of your body. So, it's hardly surprising that we can experience minor aches, cramps, and other lower limb discomforts from time to time, particularly as we age.
That said, certain leg pain may be a sign of something more severe and will need to be checked out. With this in mind, let's take a closer look at what your leg pain is telling you and what you need to do. But first, let's start with the basics.
What Is Leg Pain?
In essence, leg pain is any discomfort that occurs in the leg, starting at the hip joint and finishing down at the heel. Leg pain may be brief or ongoing. Discomfort can range from mild to debilitating, depending upon the type and seriousness of the condition and may affect the entire leg or a small area.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are on your feet more than usual, slept differently, or know that you have sustained a lower back injury, then despite the severity of the discomfort, this type of leg pain isn't usually a cause for concern.
Conversely, if you experience leg pain that won't diminish, worsens when you sit or stand, or occurs in conjunction with redness, tenderness and swelling, this is something you should be concerned about. Talking to your doctor about a vein health check in these cases would be best.
But for now, let's assume it's not this and look at leg pain that isn't the result of a serious vein issue.
Non-venous leg pain
- Joint pain and inflammation
- Muscle strains or sprains
- Muscle fatigue from overexercise or use
- Torn tendons
- Shin splints
- Dehydration (causing leg cramps)
- Leg stiffness caused by cold temperatures
That's not to say these conditions aren't painful. For example, anyone who has had sciatica will know that the pain felt as it shoots down the leg can be excruciating. What we are saying is that most of these conditions are easily treatable in the short term and typically aren't the result of something more serious.
Venous leg pain that isn't serious
In addition to non-venous leg pain, you can also experience lower limb discomfort that can be down to vein problems that, again, aren't overly serious. These include varicose veins and spider veins.
Varicose veins are a common cause of leg pain that can cause slight tenderness and swelling. The problem occurs when the small valves that control blood flow through the veins in the leg stop working. This causes the blood to pool, resulting in an unsightly or enlarged vein that is visible through the skin.
In the early stages, varicose veins aren't overly problematic and can be easily treated with non-invasive in-office procedures such as sclerotherapy, vein ablation and VenaSeal. However, if left untreated varicose veins can lead to more serious conditions like blood clots. Therefore, if you have enlarged or visible leg veins, it's always advisable to visit a vein specialist so they can rule out any major vein problems.
Leg pain causes that may indicate a serious issue
While most leg pain symptoms shouldn't be a significant cause for concern, some conditions will need immediate attention. Let's take a closer look at some of these.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms inside a large vein, such as in the calf or thigh. The clot can sometimes travel to the brain or lungs, causing a stroke or pulmonary embolism. Symptoms of DVT leg pain are often described as soreness, muscle cramping, redness, tenderness and swelling.
PAD or PVD
Peripheral Artery Disease or Peripheral Vascular Disease are interchangeable names for the same condition. In essence, PAD involves the narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels. There are two categories to include occlusive and functional.
Occlusive PAD occurs when the blood vessel is blocked. Examples include Atherosclerosis, Buerger's Disease, Carotid Artery Disease or Chronic Vein Insufficiency (CVI)
Functional conditions happen when the blood vessels spasm due to factors like stress, smoking and cooler temperatures.
Leg pain symptoms may include achiness, fatigue, burning, itching and ulceration.
How to know if leg pain constitutes a severe vein or artery issue
It can be difficult to gauge whether your leg pain constitutes a serious artery or vein issue. However, there are a few telltale signs that you should be aware of. These include:
- Severe or mild leg pain that occurs during activity and subsides after resting
- Visible sores on the legs, feet and toes that are slow to heal or won't heal at all
- A feeling of coldness in one foot or leg but not the other
- Feet become pale blue in color
- Unexplained leg swelling or inflammation
- Poor toenail growth
- Decreased hair growth on the lower limb
As a general rule of thumb, it's advisable to seek out medical care if you are experiencing leg pain alongside any of these conditions.
How to prevent vein problems, including leg pain
If you want to avoid vein problems and, inevitably, leg pain, you should look to;
- Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing - If your job dictates that you sit or stand for lengthy periods, consider moving around every 30 minutes or so, even if it's only for a few seconds, as it will help with circulation.
- Live a healthy lifestyle – Eating a balanced diet can improve blood flow, reduce inflammation and even strengthen vein walls.
- Partaking in regular exercise – Regular exercise helps increase circulation and improve the flow of blood through the body. Even gentle daily exercise can improve your vein health. Evidence suggests that a short 20-minute walk daily is enough to prevent inflammation in the body.
So there you have it, everything you should know about leg pain and when to be concerned.
At the Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT), Dr. Akinwande is a vascular and endovascular specialist. If you experience leg pain or have any of the symptoms associated with vein problems, talk to Dr. A. He will work with you to get you back to full health. Call today at 314-255-2204 or book an appointment online at one of our 5 offices including Chicago, IL.
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