Our legs are one of the most used parts of the body. We utilize them regularly – walking to work or school, and (hopefully) exercising on a regular basis. This constant use often leads to painful conditions. As with any pain, the first step to treatment is determining the exact cause of pain. With that in mind, here are 5 of the most common causes of leg pain:
- Sciatica & Low Back Pain. Sciatica is an inflammation of the sciatic nerve. It can create pain that starts in the lower back and radiates down through the buttocks into one or both legs. Read more about symptoms and treatment of sciatica.
- Shin Splints. Often the result of overuse and excessive amounts of exercise, shin splints are marked by sharp pain in your lower leg (usually after running). Generally shin splints can be effectively treated with rest and icing the shins.
- Peripheral Artery Disease. This condition occurs when blood vessels in the leg narrow, decreasing the amount of blood supply to the leg. A person with this disease will most often feel an aching pain when walking or exercising.
- Blood Clot. A blood clot is similar to peripheral artery disease in that it restricts blood flow. However, a blood clot is more severe since it completely blocks off an artery or vein, thereby cutting off blood supply. Depending on the location of the blood clot, treatment can include medications or injections to thin the blood, or surgery (in the worst cases).
Leg pain is common in many adults. Depending on the cause of the pain, it may or may not be cause for concern. If your leg pain does not go away with conservative treatment methods, or becomes severe, it’s important to seek out a physician right away.
Sciatica is a term used to describe low back pain that usually radiates into one or both legs. If the pain is radiating down the leg, it is likely being generated from a structure associated with the lumbar spine.
Radicular low back pain is pain usually generated from the lumbar spine. Rarely, it can be from surrounding structures, muscles and pelvic or lower abdomen organs. Radicular pain can be caused by any of the following:
- Lumbar Discs
- Lumbar Facet Joints
- Lumbar Vertebra
- Lumbar Nerves
- Sacroiliac Joints
All the above structures are linked to the lumbar spinal nerves, and when irritated, send signals to the brain that are perceived as pain in the low back that radiates into the buttock or leg. Pain can be felt on one or both sides of the body with this condition.
How to Identify Sciatica
There are several common symptoms that could indicate sciatica, including:
- Lower back or leg pain (either sharp or chronic)
- A tingling sensation or numbness in one or both legs, that may extend down to the toes
- Pain in the buttocks
Generally, sciatica only results in pain on one side of the body rather than both. People who suffer from sciatica can have widely varying symptoms. Some people experience intense shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand or walk. Others feel a subtler and less frequent pain.
Sciatica Treatment Options
Most radicular low back pain is not serious. The condition can generally be resolved by using conservative treatment methods, such as:
- Ice and heat
- Keep rest to a minimum – movement actually helps most structures to heal, allowing blood to flow to the region that carries the body’s own healing tools
- Use over the counter medication to reduce pain
If the pain does not resolve within a week of trying these methods, then help from a primary care provider may be beneficial to obtain stronger medications and physical therapy. No matter what you do, most sciatica pain will resolve within a month.
If radicular low back pain does not resolving in a month, the patient should consult with a Physical Medicine specialist, especially one board certified in Pain Medicine. These physicians can listen to your symptoms, examine the muscles, spine and nervous system, determine what more testing is necessary and design an appropriate individualized treatment program for you.