Achy Legs: Causes, Pains, Treatments & Relief
By Med-Fit UK Content Team . Last Updated Tuesday, 17th October 2023
If you experience occasional discomfort in your legs, it might simply indicate muscle fatigue following an intense workout. However, if this discomfort persists, it's advisable to consult with a medical professional. Persistent leg pain could be a significant indicator of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common and manageable condition characterized by decreased blood flow to the limbs due to narrowed arteries, posing a potential threat to heart health.
PAD arises from atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits in the peripheral arteries. This condition predominantly impacts the arteries that supply blood to the legs and can often be effectively managed or reversed. Hence, it's crucial not to disregard persistent leg pain and seek medical attention for proper evaluation.
What causes Achy Legs
Leg pain can result from various sources, making it essential to identify the specific cause for appropriate management. The origins of leg pain often include wear and tear from overuse, injuries, or underlying health conditions affecting joints, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, or other soft tissues. Blood circulation problems and conditions affecting the lower spine can also manifest as leg pain.
Here are the common causes of leg pain categorized for clarity:
Atherosclerosis, characterized by the narrowing and hardening of arteries due to the accumulation of fat and cholesterol, leads to reduced blood flow, impacting oxygen distribution throughout the body. Inadequate oxygen delivery to leg tissues can result in painful sensations, particularly in the calf muscles.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) manifests as the formation of solid blood clots within deep-seated veins. Typically occurring in the lower leg after extended periods of immobility, DVT causes swelling and painful muscle cramps.
Arthritis, an inflammatory condition affecting joints, often presents with swelling, pain, and redness, commonly affecting the knees and hips.
Gout, a type of arthritis, occurs when an excess of uric acid accumulates in the body, causing pain, swelling, and redness, primarily in the feet and lower legs.
Varicose veins develop when blood overfills veins due to malfunctioning valves, resulting in enlarged and twisted veins. Commonly observed in the calves and ankles, these veins can be painful and raised.
Other possible causes of achy legs or leg pain
Various conditions and injuries can also contribute to leg pain, although they are less frequent:
A slipped (herniated) disk happens when a rubbery disk between vertebrae slips out of place, compressing spinal nerves and causing pain that radiates to the arms and legs.
Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs when the tendon connecting the kneecap to the shinbone is strained, forming a painful lump below the knee during periods of rapid growth in adolescence.
Legg-Calve-Perthes disease results from interrupted blood supply to the hip joint's ball, causing severe bone damage and potential deformities, leading to persistent pain, particularly in the hip, thigh, or knee, often occurring during adolescence.
Slipped capital femoral epiphysis is a condition where the hip joint's ball separates from the thighbone, causing hip pain, and primarily affects overweight children.
Noncancerous or benign tumors can develop in the thighbone or shinbone.
Malignant or cancerous bone tumors are a potential but less common cause of leg pain.
Identifying signs and symptoms of leg pain is crucial in aiding your doctor to pinpoint its root cause. Observing features like the pain's consistency, whether it's continuous or sporadic, is valuable. Considerations such as the abrupt onset of pain, its location, and its character - whether it's sharp, dull, or tingling - provide important diagnostic clues. Additionally, understanding if the pain is exacerbated during physical activities like walking or exercise, or if it intensifies at night, aids in a comprehensive evaluation.
Accompanying signs and symptoms of achy legs or leg pain may encompass:
Presence of varicose veins
Development of sores or ulcers
Observable redness, swelling, or warmth
General malaise, particularly if there's an infection or fracture
Alterations in the leg or foot color, indicating potential nerve-related issues
Delayed healing of wounds
What causes achy legs at night?
Understanding the precise cause of leg pain or achy legs can pose a challenge. Some leg cramps are classified as 'idiopathic,' indicating an unknown cause. However, there are prevalent theories regarding the origins of calf cramps and nocturnal thigh pain, including:
1. Muscle Fatigue:
Excessive high-intensity exercise is a common factor linked to leg pain. Overworking muscles can lead to nocturnal cramping.
2. Nerve Issues:
Pressure on nerves due to a pinched nerve or spinal cord injury can result in muscle cramps in the legs during the night.
3. Prolonged Sitting or Standing:
Extended periods of sitting or standing can limit blood supply, elevating the likelihood of leg pain or cramps.
Leg cramps during the night are frequently experienced by pregnant women, typically in the second or third trimester.
Certain medications, such as blood pressure drugs, diuretics, and statins, may induce leg cramps as a side effect.
The risk of nocturnal leg pain and other discomforts increases with age.
Various Health Conditions Associated with Leg Pain and Nighttime Cramps include:
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD):
PAD involves a narrowing of peripheral arteries, reducing blood flow to the legs and feet.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD):
Similar to PAD but pertaining to coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart.
This condition involves the narrowing of spaces within the spine, exerting pressure on nerves.
Occurs when one or both kidneys cease functioning.
A type of nerve damage affecting a significant percentage of individuals with diabetes.
How to get rid of Achy Legs
Treatment for leg pain is contingent upon its underlying cause. While sore or aching legs can often be managed at home, sudden, severe, or persistent pain, along with accompanying symptoms, may necessitate medical attention.
In the event of sudden pain resulting from an injury, follow the RICER method:
Rest: Avoid moving the affected leg.
Ice: Apply an icepack to the sore area for 15-20 minutes at a time, utilizing a covered icepack or a bag of frozen peas. Repeat this every 2 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days. Some products that could be quite helpful could be the re-usable ice packs for knee. Our latest products, such as the re-usable ice pack for your knees and joints is a popular choice for those needing ice therapy / joint pain relief.
Compression: Securely bandage the area.
Elevation: Keep the leg elevated above the hip level.
Referral: Seek a medical evaluation from your doctor for the injury.
Simple pain relievers such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can be taken for pain management. For muscle cramps, gentle stretching of the muscles is often effective in alleviating the discomfort.
This approach is also beneficial for many other types of leg pain. Remember, prompt medical attention should be sought for sudden, severe, or persistent pain, or if additional concerning symptoms are present.
Other possible treatments include using a Tens Machine at night/during your sleep, or even our Medi-Booster which is designed for a multitude of conditions and issues you may have with achy legs, legs pain and more.
Treating your leg pain or achy legs at home
If your leg pain is caused by cramps or a minor injury, you can typically manage it effectively at home.
Consider the following home remedies for leg pain attributed to muscle cramps, fatigue, or overuse:
Give your leg ample rest and elevate it using pillows.
Utilize over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen to alleviate discomfort while allowing your leg to heal.
Opt for compression socks or stockings with adequate support to aid in relief.
To minimize the risk of leg pain related to physical activity, it's essential to incorporate stretching exercises before and after your workout routine. Additionally, integrating potassium-rich foods like bananas and chicken into your diet can be beneficial in preventing injuries to leg muscles and tendons.
In order to reduce the likelihood of medical conditions that may lead to nerve damage in the legs, consider the following preventive measures:
- Engage in regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, five days a week.
- Maintain a healthy weight to alleviate strain on leg nerves.
- Avoid smoking to support overall vascular health.
- Keep a check on your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and actively manage them within healthy ranges.
- Moderately consume alcohol, aiming for one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
- Consult your doctor to explore additional strategies to prevent the specific causes of leg pain you may be susceptible to.