Leg Pain? Hidden Causes and How to Get Rid of It

Any time your body is in pain, it’s normal to want to get to the root of the problem, whether it’s a simple body ache or a serious knee injury. While it’s true growing aches and pains are an inevitable part of everyone’s life, some symptoms should not be ignored as they may be signs of a bigger problem. In some cases, the problem may be remedied with something simple. If you’ve ever experienced leg pain, here are five hidden causes to consider, and ways you might be able to get rid of it.

1. Leg ulcers due to sickle cell disease

runner sitting in the grass holding a leg injury

Leg pain can negatively impact your daily routine. | iStock.com

Typically occurring in the lower part of the leg, ulcers usually appear in people between the ages of 10 and 50, and they’re most common among men. Besides the fact that an ulcer can be very painful, it may be a sign of sickle cell disease, a condition that worsens over time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a leg ulcer can result from trauma, infection, inflammation, or interruption of the circulation in the smallest blood vessels of the leg. If a leg ulcer leaves you in total agony, a doctor may prescribe strong pain meds to help curb the pain. Medicated ointments, cultured skin grafts, bed rest, and keeping the leg raised are also effective treatments.

2. Sore, tight calves from improper footwear

brown flip-flop sandals on a wooden background

Wearing flip-flops too often can cause foot pain. | iStock.com

Having a tight calf can hold you back from daily exercise as well as your day-today activities. While you might try extra stretching before and after workouts, one possible cause has an easy remedy, and it has to do with what’s on your feet. Trade your flip-flops for sneakers, Rebecca Goldstein, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy, told us. When you wear flip-flops on a regular basis, you’re overworking your calves and causing them to tense up. “This can be easily stretched out by standing on a stair step (hold on to the hand rails) and letting the affected heel drop half way off the step until a good stretch is felt. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, rest, and repeat,” Goldstein said.

3. Pulling pain on lateral side of knee due to ITB tightness

Bodybuilders Legs Shot

Dont ignore a simple strain if it doesn’t go away. | iStock.com/Ibrakovic

If you experience a pulling pain on the lateral side of your knee when you walk or go up or down the stairs, this could be due to iliotibial band (ITB) tightness. When the ITB, which runs along the side of the thigh from the hip down to just below the knee, is very tight, it can feel like knee pain. “Massaging the ITB is the best way to loosen it up,” Goldstein said. “I would recommend using a foam roller as a self-massage tool. First, lie on the foam roller on the affected side. Then roll from below the hip bone to above the knee joint for about 2 minutes.”

4. Leg numbness and foot drop due to sciatica

man grasping back in pain

Leg pain could be caused by a lower back problem. | iStock.com

In this case, we’re not talking about your leg falling asleep briefly. Prolonged leg numbness, along with an inability to walk properly, could be a sign of something more serious like a lower back problem. In these instances, the pain can really affect a person’s quality of life, making it difficult to walk or drive a car. As mentioned in this Spine-Health article, common symptoms can range from a slight tingling sensation to complete numbness down the leg and into the foot. Additionally, when people experience foot drop, they’ll often have to drag their lower leg and foot. According to Spine-Health, “Leg pain may be caused by a problem in the leg, but often the root cause of the problem starts in the lower back, where the sciatic nerve originates, and then travels along the path of the nerve (called sciatica).” If you’ve ever had this sort of pain, it’s important to see a doctor for an examination of the lower back.

5. Anterior knee pain due to runner’s knee

runner with knee pain

Continuously doing the same workout can give you runner’s knee. | iStock.com

If you experience anterior knee pain with prolonged sitting, it could be runner’s knee, also called patellar tendonitis. Mayo Clinic explained tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon — any one of the thick fibrous cords that attaches muscle to bone. The condition causes pain and tenderness just outside a joint. While it can occur in any of the tendons, it’s most common around the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and heels. According to Goldstein, if you frequently do the same workouts over and over again, you may have developed tendonitis, which is caused by repetitive activities. To aid in the healing process, limit your everyday physical routine and take time to rest. Strengthening the hip and quadriceps also tends to help.

[Editor’s note: This story was originally published August 2016]