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Causes of lower leg pain

Pain in the lower legs may be something that can be treated at home, or it may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. A lot depends on what is causing the pain and the symptoms. Seek medical advice if you have concerns.
Leg pain is most commonly brought on by problems with:

  • Bones, joints, or muscles
  • Blood vessels (veins and arteries)
  • Soft tissue or skin infections
  • Peripheral nerves

1. Muscle cramps

This sudden, tight, intense lower leg pain is often caused by muscle fatigue, heat or dehydration. Muscle cramps are more common among older people, endurance athletes or athletes who are not well-conditioned. In most cases, you can ease muscle cramps by stopping whatever triggered them. If needed, gently stretch or massage your lower leg muscle. Applying heat to tight muscles or cold to tender muscles may ease some symptoms. Correct conditioning and stretching can help prevent problems in the future.

2. Shin splints

This is the term given to exercise-induced pain in the front lower legs when connective tissues and muscles along the edge of the shin bone become inflamed. This often occurs after running or jumping, especially on hard surfaces, or in sports that involve sudden starts and stops, such as tennis or basketball. The repetitive force overloads muscles and tendons. Flat feet and too much outward rotation of the foot and leg can also contribute to this problem. Pain usually goes away with rest. It also helps to apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medication (if appropriate to do so), and avoid anything that causes pain. Once the pain lessens, stretch and strengthen your lower leg. To prevent future problems, wear supportive shoes or shock-absorbing insoles and avoid running on hard surfaces.

3. Injured tendons or muscles

One of the first signs of tendonitis (an inflamed tendon) is pain in the lower calf or back of the heel. Apply ice, take anti-inflammatory medication (if appropriate to do so), and avoid anything that causes pain. Supportive shoes that lessen tension on tendons may also help. Just as with shin splints, wait until pain lessens to stretch and strengthen your leg. If pain is severe, the Achilles tendon may be ruptured. This can result from intense activity and not warming up well enough. Seek medical advice.

4. Broken bone or sprained joint

A fracture (broken bone) or sprain (injury to ligaments from overstretching) to the knee or ankle can also cause leg pain. For mild sprains, try rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). For a more severe sprain or fracture, apply ice and seek medical advice right away. You may need a cast or brace. You may also need physiotherapy to improve movement and speed recovery. Over time, gradually increase strength to support your weakened leg.

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