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How to Treat Minor Leg Pain
Leg pain is a common problem for athletes and non-athletes alike. Minor or mild leg pain is triggered by numerous causes — most commonly muscle strains, ligament sprains, a "charley horse" from blunt trauma and leg cramps from dehydration or over-exertion.These causes are usually easily treated with home care. On the other hand, minor leg pain can be an initial sign of a serious condition, such as diabetes, blood clots or low back issues, so knowing when to contact a health professional is important.
Using Home Care Methods
Rest your leg.If you feel minor leg pain while playing a sport, working out at the gym or being active in general, then take a break and rest it for at least a few hours. Most cases of minor leg pain is muscle strain or cramping from over-exertion, so rest is a good remedy most of the time.If the pain quickly fades away, then return to your activity. If not, try some of the advice in the following steps.
- Although some leg cramps and mild muscle strain can resolve within a few hours, you may have to rest for a few days before resuming athletic activities.
- Bed rest and complete inactivity is not considered helpful for most musculoskeletal injuries nowadays, so some light walking and movement for house chores is recommended.
Spend time elevating your leg.While you're resting your leg, try to elevate it in order to deter swelling from forming.Most injuries to the muscles, ligaments and bones of the leg involve inflammation, which collects (pools) in the lower leg and causes more discomfort and problems with walking. Therefore, elevate your painful leg with a footstool when you sit, or use extra pillows while you lie on the couch or in bed.
- Elevating your leg sort of cancels out the effects of gravity and prevents water-like fluid from pooling in your lower leg and foot.
- Raising your injured leg above the level of your heart is ideal, although that's obviously difficult while sitting. Lying flat on your back with your leg elevated is probably the easiest and most comfortable position.
Stretch your leg muscles.Since most minor leg injuries involve strained or tight muscles, take the time to do some leg stretches after you've rested them for a short period of time. Stretching elongates muscle fibers, increases flexibility and promotes better circulation, all of which can alleviate minor pain or discomfort.Pinpointing where your leg pain is coming from will help you to choose the most effective stretch. All stretches should be held for 30 seconds and repeated three to five times daily until the pain fades away.
- If your pain is coming from your hamstring muscle (directly below your buttocks), then bending over at the waist and trying to touch your toes is a good stretch.
- If your pain is in your thigh (quadriceps muscles), then bend your knee and pull your foot up with your hand so that the heel comes close to your butt.
- If the pain is in your calf muscle, then lean against a wall with your feet flat on the floor. Move your feet away from the wall (about 3 feet or so) until you feel a nice stretch in your calves.
Apply ice if you feel a mild injury with inflammation.If it seems obvious that your leg pain is related to a minor injury while playing sports or working out at the gym, then applying some sort of cold therapy is an effective way of reducing the inflammation and pain. Apply ice or something cold to where you think the pain is coming from for up to 15 minutes at a time, three to five per day for the first few days.Ice shrinks surface blood vessels and prevents swelling.
- Crushed ice or ice cubes is ideal, but frozen gel packs or bags of frozen veggies work well also. Whatever you use, always wrap it in a thin cloth to avoid frost bite on your skin.
- Once you apply the ice to your leg, take a Tensor or Ace stretchy bandage and wrap it around the area tightly — but don't cut off your circulation and make your foot numb. It will keep the ice in place and the compression will further reduce the swelling.
Soak in a warm bath if you feel leg cramps.If you can't seem to pinpoint why or when your leg started to hurt, and the pain feels more crampy, achy and/or restless, then take a warm bath. The moist heat of a bath will open up blood vessels, promote better circulation and deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your legs, which is ideal for tired or over-worked muscles, tendons and ligament.
- The warmth of a hot bath also decreases muscle spasms, alleviates chronic pain and can improve flexibility.
- Adding Epsom salt to your warm bath may be even more effective, as the magnesium-rich salt can soothe tight muscles quickly. A few cups of the salt into your bath water should be enough.
- However, remember that warm baths are not recommended for acute (sudden) injuries that involve lots of inflammation.
Drink some water.In addition to over-exertion and strain, muscle cramping is also caused by dehydration — either not drinking enough water or sweating too much on a hot day.Thus, if you notice muscle cramps on a warm day along with moderate-to-severe thirst, dry mouth / lips, mild headache and a general lack of energy, you're likely in need of some water. Keep in mind though, that cramps from dehydration typically affect both legs at the same time.
- Aim for at least 8 eight-ounce glasses of purified water each day — more if you're really active or it's hot and humid outside.
- Lack of water is not the only trigger of muscle cramps. Sweating also removes mineral salts (potassium, sodium, magnesium) from your body, which the muscles need to contract and relax normally.
- To regain electrolytes, drink some fresh fruit and/or vegetables juices, such as orange, lemonade, tomato or cucumber.
Consider taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication.If none of the above-mentioned home remedies seem to alleviate your minor leg pain, then consider taking some OTC medication, such as painkillers or anti-inflammatories. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is effective for general pain control, whereas ibuprofen (Advil) also reduces inflammation, but both are relatively safe to take for short-term relief of leg discomfort if you read the instructions and take appropriate dosages.
- For most non-serious causes of minor leg pain (strains, sprains, bruises, cramps) medication shouldn't be needed for much more than a few days.
- If OTC medication is the only home remedy that makes your leg feel better, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to have it looked at. It may be more serious than you think.
Knowing When to Seek Help
Watch out for sharp shooting pain.Sharp shooting pain often doesn't represent a problem in your leg, but rather an issue in your low back or hip. Twinges of pain that shoot down the back of your leg is called sciatica and usually caused by a bulging or herniated disc between your spinal bones.
- See your doctor or chiropractor for a physical exam and spinal x-rays to rule out a back problem.
- Shooting leg pain can also be caused by arthritic and/or slightly malpositioned hip or spinal joints.
- Sharp, shooting or "electric" pain represents nerve irritation, whereas achy pain and soreness usually indicates muscle pain.
Be concerned if you have diabetes.Foot and leg issues are common with diabetics because the high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood is toxic and irritation to small blood vessels and nerve endings.If your lower leg or foot is painful and numb (reduced sensations), then you may not be controlling your blood sugar as well as you should.
- See your doctor and get your blood glucose levels measured by a simple blood test. Leg pain is often an early sign to people who are undiagnosed with diabetes.
- Being overweight and a heavy drinker of alcohol are two major risk factors for diabetes.
- People with diabetes usually develop symptoms and pain in both legs and the condition gets worse slowly with time depending on how well the condition is managed.
Look for signs of infection.Infections in the leg from puncture wounds or cuts / abrasions are not uncommon and often start with minor pain before escalating and getting worse. Other signs to look out for include swelling and redness, black and blue streaks, mild-to-moderate fever, nausea, rapidly increasing pain and great difficulty walking.
- See your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. If your doctor is booked up or unavailable, go to a walk-in clinic or hospital emergency department for treatment.
- Stepping on sharp objects, sports injuries, foot trauma, cuts from a pedicure and severe blisters from ill-fitting shoes can all develop into bacterial infections that quickly involve most of the leg.
- Insect, spider and snake bites can also cause leg pain and mimic the symptoms of infections. They may also need medical attention.
Be aware of rapid swelling and discoloration.One of the more dangerous causes of mild leg pain (at least initially) is a blood clot that gets stuck in a vein or artery within your leg.Blood clots (also called a deep vein thrombosis) starts out as minor pain and swelling in the lower leg, but quickly escalates. Severe pain, swelling and discoloration quickly develops within minutes to hours and necessitates medical attention.
- Your doctor will give you some blood "thinning" or anti-clotting medication, but may also have to operate and remove the clot surgically in some cases.
- Smoking, long-term use of birth control pills and inactivity are major risk factors for developing blood clots.
Take note of reduced range of motion and grinding sounds.Another common cause of mild-to-moderate leg pain is arthritis of the ankle, knee or hips joints. Wear and tear arthritis (called osteoarthritis) develops gradually and includes achy pain that's worse with activity, reduced range of motion in the involved joint, general stiffness and grinding or clicking sounds with movement.
- Your doctor or chiropractor can take x-rays to determine if you have osteoarthritis in your leg(s). Bone spurs and joint erosion are hallmark signs on x-ray.
- Osteoarthritis is more common in the elderly (especially those who are overweight) and can affect the joints of one or both legs.
Getting Professional Treatment
See your family physician.If the home remedies don't help or alleviate your minor leg pain, then make an appointment with your doctor for an exam and potential blood tests. Your doctor will take an x-ray if they think the problem is caused by your leg bones or joints. Bone problems can include hairline (stress) fractures, infection, tumors or osteoporosis (brittle bones).Joint problems can include arthritis, infection or dislocations.
- Your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics for any infections, stronger drugs if you're having trouble coping with arthritis or muscle relaxants for severe cramps.
- Your doctor can prescribe you medicine (or adjust your dosage) if chronic diabetes is the cause of your leg pain.
Make an appointment with a chiropractor.Chiropractors are musculoskeletal specialists who focus on the health of the spine, but also peripheral joints and muscles of the arms and legs.Chiropractors can adjust or realign any joints of the low back, hip or leg that may be causing or contributing to your problem. They can also recommend specific exercises and stretches to alleviate your discomfort.
- A chiropractor can rule out if a spinal disc problem or joint is causing issues in your leg. Spinal adjustments can be effective for sciatica relief and can sometimes reduce the need for surgery.
- Chiropractic adjustments often cause a clicking or cracking sound, which does not injure bones or joints.
Try a massage therapist.Considering that most minor leg pain is caused by muscle strain, tightness or overuse, it makes sense to see a muscle specialist such as a professional massage therapist. Massage therapy is beneficial for reducing muscle pain and tension, improving circulation and reducing stress.
- Start with a 30-minute massage and ask the therapist to focus mainly on your leg, although some work on your buttocks and low back may be a good idea too.
- There are different styles and pressures of massage. Deep tissue massage is often effective for muscle strains and tightness, but you may prefer a gentler form such as Swedish technique.
QuestionWhat should I do if I am having growing pains?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGrowing pains aren't actually real. Simply growing is not a reason you would have pain. Talk to your doctor for advice.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I make my leg pain go away quickly? Because I have to go to school and I want my leg to not hurt.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTake ibuprofen and rest it and ice it. If your pain persists, see a doctor.Thanks!
How I avoid from leg pain of diabetes?
How can my grandma treat inflammation in her legs ?
- For muscle sprains and strains, remember the acronym RICE for home treatment: rest, ice, compression and elevation.
- Crutches or a cane may be helpful or necessary for the first few days after a leg injury for support and to help take pressure off it while walking.
- Avoid constantly crossing your legs or ankles as that may lead to minor leg pain over time.
- The above steps are simply ways to take care of mild-to-moderate leg pain at home, but should not be a replacement for professional medical treatment. For serious injuries / pain, consult a doctor.
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