Leg Pain: Potential Causes and How to Find Relief At Home

Medically reviewed by Laura Campedelli, DPTMedically reviewed by Laura Campedelli, DPT

Leg pain is discomfort or pain felt in any part of the leg. It can range from mild to severe, depending on the cause. In some cases, leg pain is nothing to worry about and is due to a minor muscle strain. However, pain in the legs could also indicate something more serious that requires treatment, such as injuries to the nerves or bones in the leg.

Treating leg pain is highly dependent on its cause, but it can typically be remedied using at-home therapies. If the pain comes on suddenly and is severe or persistent, or if other symptoms are present, it could indicate a serious medical condition requiring immediate medical attention, such as a blood clot.

This article discusses the various causes of leg pain and what you can do to remedy the discomfort.

<p>Rabizo / Getty Images</p>

Rabizo / Getty Images

Leg Pain Types

Pain in the leg can come on for several reasons, and there are varying types of leg pain according to where in the body the pain stems. Types include:

Neurological Pain

Neurological leg pain is often referred to as neuropathic pain or neuropathy. It develops when a health condition damages nerves that carry pain signals to the brain.

Symptoms include burning pain accompanied by tingling and numbness in the legs and feet.

Musculoskeletal Pain

Musculoskeletal pain arises when the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the legs are damaged or injured. This pain may arise after muscle sprains or fractures.

Vascular Pain

Vascular pain develops when blood flow through the blood vessels in the legs are blocked, leading to a lack of blood in the tissue or muscles. This lack of circulation could drive other symptoms, including a sensation of heaviness in the legs and leg weakness. One of the most common types of vascular pain affecting the legs is peripheral artery disease.

Knowing the Difference

Other signs accompanying the leg pain can help determine whether it’s neurological, musculoskeletal, or vascular. For example, muscular pain is likely caused by a specific reason, such as pulling a muscle, whereas vascular pain occurs because of blood flow issues.

Common Causes of Leg Pain

The most common causes of leg pain include:

Since the causes vary, it’s essential to work with a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis of what's causing your leg pain.


Injuries are the most apparent cause of leg pain. After you hurt yourself, you will feel pain, and when you know the cause, you can act accordingly.

Types of leg injuries include:

What Do Leg Injuries Feel Like?

The pain in a leg injury is sudden and severe and accompanied by:

  • Bruising

  • Swelling

  • Loss of consciousness if the injury is severe enough

Leg Cramps or Charley Horses

"Charley horse" is a common term for cramps or muscle spasms in the leg. This type of leg pain typically develops when the muscle is injured or overused. It can also occur if you are deficient in certain nutrients, such as potassium or calcium. In some cases, charley horse pain can develop if nerves connected to the muscle are irritated.

What Does a Charley Horse Feel Like?

The pain caused by a leg cramp will come on suddenly in the calf, foot, or thigh. It is intense and the pain feels dull and tight.

Learn More: How to Treat and Prevent Leg Cramps

Shin Splints

The term "shin splints" refers to pain in the front of the lower leg (the shins). It is caused by inflammation of the muscle, tendon, or bone surrounding the shin. They are typically more prevalent in active individuals, such as professional athletes, dancers, and those in the military.

What Do Shin Splints Feel Like?

You may get many symptoms if you have shin splints, including:

  • Sharp or dull aching pain in the front of the skin

  • Pain when you push on the shin

  • Pain that worsens with exercise or movement

  • If severe enough, the legs will hurt when walking


Fractures and Stress Fractures

Fractures and stress fractures are breaks or cracks in the bone. They can develop because of overuse, repetitive force on the area, or bone disorders such as osteoporosis.

What Does a Stress Fracture Feel Like?

Stress fractures start as a dull ache but can worsen over time if left untreated. Overuse can cause the crack to grow if you don’t get it treated promptly.

Hamstring Strain

The hamstring is made up of three muscles that extend from the thigh to the knee:

  • Biceps femoris

  • Semitendinosus

  • Semimembranosus

A strain in the hamstring occurs when the muscle in that area becomes overloaded or overextended. A strain can be mild or severe, depending on how severe the injury to the muscle is.

What Does Hamstring Pain Feel Like?

If mild, a hamstring strain may not cause any pain to develop. However, the pain could be sharp and severe, and you may hear a popping sound when the strain occurs. Other symptoms include:

  • Pain in the back area of the thigh upon straightening or bending the leg

  • Swelling, bruising, and tenderness

  • Weakness in the leg

Learn More: Causes of Thigh Pain and When to See a Healthcare Provider

Peripheral Artery Disease

PAD occurs when the blood vessels in the legs are blocked or narrower than they should be. It is typically caused by fatty plaque buildup in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

What Does PAD Feel Like?

PAD comes with various signs and symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the legs while being physically active

  • A reduction in pain when resting

  • Achy and crampy feelings in the thighs or calves while walking

  • Muscle weakness

  • Hair loss and smooth, shiny skin

  • Skin that feels cool to the touch

  • Leg sores or ulcers

Deep Vein Thrombosis

DVT is another medical disorder that is driven by issues with the veins. It develops when a blood clot forms in a deep vein in the lower legs or thighs. This type of leg pain requires emergency medical attention, so you should contact a healthcare provider if you believe you may have DVT.

What Does DVT Feel Like?

In some cases, DVT will not cause symptoms to develop. When they do, they can include:

  • Throbbing pain in the area

  • Swelling

  • Tenderness

  • Redness of the skin

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon connecting the back of the leg to the heel, the Achilles tendon, becomes inflamed and swollen. The most common cause of Achilles tendonitis is overuse, and younger people, as well as athletes, runners, and walkers, are the most likely to be affected. In some cases, it can also be caused by arthritis, but that is more common in middle-aged and older adults.

What Does Achilles Tendonitis Feel Like?

The pain most associated with Achilles tendonitis is dull and achy. It will occur in the back of the leg just above the heel after being physically active.

Compartment Syndrome

Compartment syndrome occurs when there is an increase in pressure inside a muscle. This pressure restricts blood flow, leading to pain in the area. In some cases, sudden onset of compartment syndrome can be a medical emergency.

What Does Compartment Syndrome Feel Like?

The pain associated with compartment syndrome can feel like a deep ache or burning and worsens upon movement. Other symptoms can include:

  • Swelling or bulging of the muscle

  • Numbness and weakness or pins and needles in the leg

  • Tightness or movement difficulties

Related: Common Causes of Lower Leg Pain and Treatment Options

Sciatic Nerve Pain

The sciatic nerve is a nerve that travels down the back of each leg, starting at the buttocks. It controls the muscles in the back of the knee and lower leg. When this type of pain occurs, it is referred to as sciatica.

The common causes of sciatica include:

What Does Sciatic Nerve Pain Feel Like?

There is no set type of pain in sciatica because it can vary widely. It can feel like a mild tingling or a dull ache or as though the leg is burning.


Arthritis is a common condition driven by joint inflammation. If the joints affected are in the legs, pain can develop. There are several types of arthritis, some of which affect major organs.

Several types can cause leg pain, including:

These types typically affect the knee joint but can also cause leg pain if the hip or ankle is affected.

What Does Arthritis Pain Feel Like?

Arthritis pain typically feels dull and achy but can also create a burning sensation. The pain tends to worsen the more you use the joint.


Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the joints in the lower limbs or the big toe. It causes swelling and pain and comes on in flares, meaning it comes and goes sporadically. The condition is caused by high levels of urate (a type of salt) in the body.

When too much urate builds up in the body or joints, it creates needle-shaped crystals that cause damage, leading to pain and other symptoms.

What Does Gout Feel Like?

When you have gout, the affected joint may be hot and tender to the point that touching it feels excruciating. Swelling is also present. In some cases, a gout flare can cause pain so severe it can wake you up from sleep.

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are veins that have been twisted around to lie just under the skin. They tend to swell. The most common location for varicose veins is the legs, but they can occur in other areas of the body, such as the rectum. The leading cause of varicose veins is damaged or weak vein walls and valves.

What Do Varicose Veins Feel Like?

The pain that develops because of varicose veins will be achy. You could also experience:

  • A burning or itching sensation around the veins

  • Veins that bulge and have a bluish hue

  • Swelling and heaviness in the legs

  • Nighttime leg cramps

Other Causes of Leg Pain

Some other causes of leg pain are found to be less common, but they can still drive the symptoms in some people. They include:

Slipped (Herniated) Disc

Between each vertebra in the spine are discs. Their role is to absorb shock on the spine to avoid injury. When one of those discs, or a disc fragment, slips out of place into the spinal canal, it can lead to leg pain. Typically, when this happens to a disc, they are already in a state of degeneration.

The causes most associated with herniated discs are excessive strain or injury to the area and the natural aging process. In some cases, a person may have a familial risk of developing a slipped disc if it runs in their family.

What Does a Slipped Disk Feel Like?

Typically, back pain is the symptom most associated with a slipped disc but it can cause leg pain to develop if the sciatic nerve is being compressed by the disc. The pain can feel similar to sciatica, with a mild ache and burning, tingling, numbness, and redness being the most notable symptoms.


Tumors are masses of abnormal cells that form a growth. They can occur anywhere in the body, including the legs. The first sign of a tumor in the leg will likely be the growth itself, but other symptoms can also accompany it. A tumor can also develop in the bone in the leg, referred to as osteosarcoma.

What Does a Leg Tumor Feel Like?

In many cases, a tumor in the leg will not cause any discomfort or pain, especially in the early stages. However, as it grows, it can compress nerves or press into muscles, causing pain and soreness.

Learn More: What Causes Bone Pain in the Legs?

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs when the knee is injured or overused. It leads to swelling and a large, painful bump on the shinbone below the knee. The disease is most common in young children and adolescents, as well as those who are athletic between the ages of 10 and 15.

The cause of Osgood-Schlatter disease is bone growth plate irritation. When the bone is growing, the end of the growth plate, the outer edges near the joint, are made of cartilage. This cartilage doesn’t have the same strength as bone, so if too much stress is placed on the area, it can lead to pain and swelling below the kneecap.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is a rare condition that occurs when the femoral head, the ball-shaped head of the thigh bone, loses its supply of blood. The femoral head collapses without adequate blood supply, leading to irritation and inflammation. It typically affects children 10 and under, and there is no known cause.

What Does Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Feel Like?

The most noticeable symptom of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is a limp, but it can be accompanied by thigh, knee, or groin pain. The pain will be mild and worsen with physical activity.

Related: Leg Pain in Children: Causes and How to Soothe Growing Pains

At-Home Treatment Options

There are several things you can do at home to help alleviate leg pain. They include:

  • Rest and elevation

  • Ice and heat therapy

  • Medications, such as ibuprofen, to relieve pain

  • Physical therapy and light exercises recommended by a healthcare professional

  • Stretching and strengthening exercises

  • Managing the underlying conditions that cause the leg pain

Other self-care measures include:

Self-Care for Muscle Cramps

You can reduce the pain of a muscle cramp at home by:

  • Preventing dehydration by drinking water throughout the day

  • Stretching the muscles every day and before and after exercise to reduce and prevent further cramping

  • Increasing exercise slowly over time

  • Stretching and massaging the muscle when an active cramp is occurring

  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers

Sports Injury Treatment

At-home treatments for a sports injury include:

  • Rest your leg and avoid using it for two to three days.

  • Apply ice to the area for 20 minutes every two hours for two to three days.

  • Use a compression bandage over the area that extends above and below the injury.

  • Elevate your leg above your heart as much as possible.

Circulatory Issues

For varicose veins or circulatory issues in the legs that cause pain, at-home therapies inlcude:

  • Trying mild exercise, such as walking and swimming, to improve blood circulation in the legs

  • Doing leg exercises while sitting, such as rotating your feet at the ankles, pointing and flexing your feet while extending your legs, and bending your knees back and forth

  • Keeping your legs elevated above the heart when sitting or lying down

  • Avoiding sitting or standing for long periods

  • Wearing compression socks

When to Utilize At-Home Treatments

If you have gotten a diagnosis and know what is causing your leg pain, you can try at-home treatments in addition to any medical treatments given by your healthcare provider to help alleviate the pain. If you have yet to determine what is causing the pain, see your healthcare provider before trying at-home remedies.

Prevention Tips

Prevention is the best method for avoiding leg pain. The best ways to keep leg pain at bay include:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid health conditions driven by lifestyle factors

  • Exercise for 30 minutes per day and stretch before and after each exercise

  • Use proper footwear and ergonomics to keep the body in alignment and the foot functioning as it should while walking or running

  • Avoid the overuse or repetitive strain of your muscles

  • Avoid smoking

  • Monitor health parameters, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, to keep an eye on changes that can be remedied easily

  • Limit alcohol consumption

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

In some instances of leg pain, immediate medical attention may be necessary, such as with DVT.

If you experience any of the symptoms of DVT, you should head to your local emergency department. Other causes of leg pain that require prompt medical attention include:

  • Breaks and fractures

  • Compartment syndrome

  • Peripheral artery disease

In some less severe cases, you should also consult a healthcare provider if the leg pain does not get better with proper therapies or at-home treatment or becomes severe and debilitating.


Leg pain has a variety of causes. While most of them are not severe or life-threatening, others can be. It’s vital to get a proper diagnosis of your leg pain so you can plan accordingly on how to remedy the situation.

Since leg pain and health disorders often go hand-in-hand, any new and unrelenting leg pain should be checked out by a healthcare provider. In the meantime, you can practice at-home treatments such as elevating the legs, applying ice, and getting enough moderate exercise.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.