LEG PAIN TREATMENT
What Causes Leg Pain?
Leg pain can result from a problem in the leg or can radiate from another part of the body, such as the spine or buttocks. Most leg pain is the result of wear and tear, overuse, or injury to the joints, bones, or muscles of the leg. Common leg pain causes and conditions include fractures, or strains to the muscles, ligaments, or tendons of the legs, along with sciatica, complex regional pain syndrome, and phantom limb pain.
Fractures, Strains, and Sprains
When a bone in the leg is cracked or broken due to a fall, car accident or other injury, the resulting pain can be intense. Leg pain from a bone fracture makes it difficult to walk and may be accompanied by swelling, bruising, and tenderness. Even after a bone fracture heals, leg pain can linger.
Stress fractures are tiny bone cracks that are common in the bones of the lower leg and foot. Overuse and repetitive force, such as from long-distance running or repeated jumping, are risk factors for stress fractures. These fractures can cause pain or tenderness in the lower leg that improves with rest but can worsen over time.
Muscle strains are common in the legs, especially among people who play sports like soccer or basketball that involve sprinting along with sudden stops and starts. A hamstring pull or strain causes sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh, and can make it difficult to put weight on the affected leg.
Nerve Damage Conditions
Sciatica can cause leg pain when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed due to pinching or compression. Since this nerve branches downward from the lower spine through the buttocks, hips, and legs, associated pain can be felt in any of these areas. Sometimes, sciatic leg pain will be accompanied by numbness or tingling. Ranging from mild and achy to sharp or even excruciating, sciatic pain can feel like an electric jolt within the back of the thigh.
If peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, develops in the feet, associated pain can radiate upward into the legs. Leg pain from peripheral neuropathy can be sharp, throbbing, burning, or prickling.
Night (or nocturnal) leg cramps can also be related to nerve problems. These involuntary, painful muscle spasms often occur while lying down. Though night leg cramps are usually centered in the calf muscles, the thigh or foot muscles can also be affected.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that can affect the leg following an injury or trauma. CRPS is believed to be related to damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems and can cause lasting pain and discomfort.
IT Band Syndrome and Tendinitis
Tendinitis is irritation or inflammation of the tendons, the thick bands that connect muscles to bones throughout the body. Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome is a common form of tendinitis that causes tightness and pain in the outside of the hip, leg, and knee. Distance runners are prone to IT band syndrome due to running’s repetitive motions. Significant pain can develop when the tendon tightens and rubs against the femur.
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury that occurs when the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles from the heel bone to the back of the leg, becomes strained due to repetitive motion or injury. Achilles tendinitis pain can range from mild to severe and can be aggravated by activities like long runs, sprinting, or climbing stairs.
Sometimes, the Achilles tendon actually ruptures, either partially or completely. The associated pain is sudden and sharp and is felt in the back of the ankle and the lower leg. A rupture of this tendon is likely to make it difficult to walk.
Other Leg Pain Causes
Blood clots and varicose veins can cause leg pain, along with poor circulation. Clots cause soreness, cramping, and swelling in the leg, while varicose veins can cause aching and discomfort, and may signal other circulatory problems. Poor circulation can cause leg pain, especially while walking or running, and can be a warning sign of more serious conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) or even an impending heart attack.
Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints cause tenderness, soreness or even sharp pain along the shin bone, which runs down the front of the lower leg. Runners and dancers are prone to leg pain from shin splints, particularly if they are just starting out or have just increased their activity level.
If a portion of the leg has been amputated, phantom limb pain can sometimes be felt in the portion of the leg that is no longer there. Phantom leg pain can also be felt as cramping, tingling or itching in the part of the leg that has been removed.
Herniated discs in the lower back can cause intense pain through the buttocks, thighs and calf muscles. This pain can intensify with sudden bodily movements like sneezing or coughing. Numbness can also develop in the legs due to a herniated disc.
Balcones Pain Consultants helps patients understand the reasons behind leg pain and develop customized treatment plans to minimize discomfort and regain strength and mobility.
How is Leg Pain Treated?
Treatments for leg pain are as varied as the underlying conditions that can cause leg pain. At Balcones Pain Consultants, we are experts at diagnosing and treating all sources of leg pain, whether symptoms are acute or chronic. Treatment options for your leg pain, depending on the condition, include physical therapy, medications, nerve blocks, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
Acupuncture and Biofeedback for Treating Leg Pain
An ancient, noninvasive healing technique of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture can be effective at treating leg pain. This technique involves stimulating specific points on the body with extremely fine, sterile needles to promote the natural healing process. Acupuncture can be a beneficial component of treatment for leg pain conditions such as sciatica, neuropathy and complex regional pain syndrome.
Biofeedback, another noninvasive technique, involves using electrical sensors on patients that provide information about the body’s functions, such as heart rate, temperature, sweating, and blood pressure. Individuals can use this information to make subtle changes in their body functions, thereby improving their overall health. Biofeedback can be effective in treating leg pain resulting from chronic regional pain syndrome and other conditions.
Treatments for Leg Pain Due to Fractures, Strains, and Sprains
Treating leg pain due to bone breaks/fractures, including stress fractures, typically involves pain medications along with braces, casts, or splints to immobilize the leg. Stress fractures tend to improve over time when rest and reduced activity are a part of the recovery plan. Any damage to the bones of the leg will require a period of reduced or modified activity during recovery. After the fracture has healed, physical therapy stretches and exercises may be needed to reduce lingering pain, strengthen the leg and increase range of motion.
Leg pain due to strains in the leg muscles, ligaments, or tendons can be treated with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and other pain medications along with reduced activity during the recovery period to avoid further damage. Physical therapy can also play an important role in pain reduction and overall recovery. Treating leg pain from iliotibial (IT) band syndrome might involve topical anti-inflammatory medications, massage, or special stretching techniques to reduce pain. Exercises designed to strengthen the core, hip, and buttock muscles will help in long-term recovery and pain reduction.
Treatment for Achilles tendinitis might include NSAIDs or other medication to manage the pain, a cast, walking boot, or compression brace to stabilize the ankle, orthotic inserts to cushion the heel, and physical therapy exercises to gently stretch and strengthen the tendon. Although your provider may recommend different treatment options, surgery is generally required to repair a severely damaged Achilles tendon.
Treatments for Leg Pain Due to Pinched Nerves or Nerve Damage
When pain from peripheral or diabetic neuropathy radiates upward from the feet into the legs, treatment might include topical or oral pain medications, or antidepressants. Dietary and lifestyle changes can also play an important role in reducing leg pain associated with neuropathy, as can transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or nerve blocks.
Many milder cases of sciatica can be treated with rest, massage, heat applications, and NSAIDs for reducing pain and inflammation. If sciatic hip pain is severe, more aggressive medical intervention is needed. If sudden, severe leg pain follows a major injury, or if you’re experiencing numbness or weakness in the leg, or trouble controlling your bladder or bowels, immediate medical attention is required.
Leg pain due to night (or nocturnal) leg cramps can be treated with topical or oral pain medications or muscle relaxants. Physical therapy that includes specific stretches and exercises can also help with managing this condition. Nutritional supplements and drinking more water can also provide effective pain relief by treating the underlying cause of the leg cramps.
Leg pain from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is most easily treated when the underlying condition, CRPS, is diagnosed early. Medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, pain relievers, and bone-loss drugs can all play important roles in treating this condition. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, and nerve blocks can all provide effective treatment as well. Treatment options might also include biofeedback, hot and cold applications, or physical therapy exercises.
Treatments for Leg Pain from Other Conditions
Leg pain due to shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, can be treated with dynamic rest, meaning switching from the repetitive motion activity that caused the condition to something non-weight-bearing, such as swimming or stationary biking. Foam rollers, along with physical therapy stretches and exercises can also play an important role in the treatment of this condition, along with pain medication such as NSAIDs. Better shoe support and cushioning can also reduce pain associated with shin splints, as can nutritional supplements to address any underlying vitamin or mineral deficit.
Leg pain due to herniated discs in the lower back can be treated with pain medications like NSAIDs along with gentle stretching and physical therapy exercises, ice and heat therapy, or chiropractic adjustments. Epidural steroid injections and oral steroid medications can also relieve pain by reducing inflammation. In some severe cases, surgery on the affected disc or discs may be required.
Advanced Treatments for Leg Pain Management
Severe or chronic knee pain which does not respond to other treatments, or which significantly impacts your life or activity level, may be treated with more advanced methods. It’s important to let your healthcare provider at Balcones Pain Consultants know about all your symptoms, so that we can help you to return to living life as smoothly and quickly as possible. We will be happy to answer any questions you have about the many treatment options available, including: