What causes leg pain?

Infectious diseases, blood circulation problems, and neurological conditions can affect the leg. However, most leg pain is due to overuse, injury, and age-related wear and tear on the muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments of the leg, including the hip, knee and ankle. Usually these conditions are not serious, and you can largely prevent and treat overuse and injury problems with self-care measures and lifestyle changes. For example, proper rest in between periods of exertion and abstaining from extreme sports without proper conditioning are two practical methods of avoiding leg trauma.

Leg pain may arise from conditions that can be alleviated by self-care measures or by following your health care provider’s treatment plan.

Injury-related causes of leg pain

Leg pain may arise from injuries including:

  • Hairline crack or stress fracture

  • Muscle cramp (charley horse) commonly caused by dehydration or overuse

  • Overuse injury (shin splint), strain or sprain

  • Traumatic injury (Achilles tendon rupture, torn meniscus)

Degenerative, inflammatory and autoimmune–related causes of leg pain

Leg pain can also be caused by the deterioration of the joint structure, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases, such as:

  • Baker’s cyst

  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)

  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness and tenderness)

  • Gout (type of arthritis)

  • Intermittent claudication due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)

  • Varicose veins

Other causes of joint pain

Leg pain may be a symptom of more obscure or rare conditions that are not immediately evident. These include:

  • Bone tumor (malignant or benign)

  • Medications, such as corticosteroids or allopurinol, which is used to treat gout

  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (rare, degenerative hip bone disease)

  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

  • Sciatic nerve damage due to spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease

  • Cellulitis (skin infection)

  • Growth plate fracture

Serious or life-threatening causes of leg pain

In some cases, leg pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency medical setting. These include:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg, which can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal and compression of the spinal cord and nerves)

What are the potential complications of leg pain?

The complications of leg pain depend on the underlying disease, disorder and condition. Mild leg pain due to overuse usually responds to rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, untreated leg pain due to serious conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) or peripheral artery disease, can lead to permanent damage and life-threatening secondary complications.

Some of the more serious complications of leg pain due to deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, and spinal stenosis include:

  • Loss of limb (amputation)

  • Permanent nerve damage

  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)

  • Stroke


  1. Leg pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003182.htm.
  2. Leg pain. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/leg-pain/MY00080/DSECTION=causes.

What is leg pain?

Leg pain is any type of pain or discomfort in the leg, from the hip joint to the heels. Leg pain is a fairly common complaint. Your legs are made up of joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels all of which are subject to injury, infection or other conditions that can cause leg pain.

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What other symptoms might occur with leg pain?

Other symptoms may occur with leg pain depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. If you have a fever, your leg pain is likely due to infection or inflammation. Leg pain due to arthritis may occur with stiffness and reduced range of motion. You may also experience ankle or hip pain.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 5, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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