5 Potential Causes of Leg and Ankle Pain

Staff WriterLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:39:09 AM ET
Legs sticking out of a car window CC0/GreyerBaby/Pixabay

Your legs and ankles are the foundation of much of what you do each day. When they hurt, it can prevent you from working, exercising, running errands, taking care of your family and, sometimes, even walking. Most leg and ankle pain comes from injuries to the bones, muscles, joints and ligaments, though some are the result of back problems, blood clots and problems with your nerves and veins. If you’ve been experiencing leg or ankle pain lately, it might stem from one of these most common issues:

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Tendonitis

While it’s more common in athletes, anyone can come down with a painful case of tendonitis. Your tendons are the cords that connect your bones and muscles, and they’re found all throughout your body, from head to toe. However, the largest ones are in your legs and ankles, including your achilles tendon, which runs from your calf all the way down to your heel. When you develop tendonitis, those tendons become inflamed, and they may swell. The more you use those tendons, the worse the symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, along with the RICE protocol. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Venous Insufficiency

Problems with your veins can lead to leg pain, especially if you work at a job that has you sitting or standing in one place for much of the day. Venous insufficiency is when the veins in your legs don’t function like they should. It’s not always a serious problem, but in time, it can lead to serious problems, like varicose veins, skin problems, blood clots and leg ulcers. Elevating your legs for at least 30 minutes a day, wearing compression stockings, losing weight, working to improve your circulation and ingesting some herbs might help with the symptoms of venous insufficiency. If you do sit or stand at work all day, take breaks every 30 to 60 minutes to walk around if possible.

Sprained Ankle

A sprained ankle is often one of the main causes of ankle pain, and it can happen to anyone, usually after they’ve tripped or misstepped and their ankle rolled to the side. This injury causes the ligaments in the ankle to tear, and it can also lead to swelling and bruising. You might find that it’s impossible to walk without crutches, a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. Most of time, ankle sprains take a week or less to heal up if you follow the RICE protocol. If the sprain doesn’t heal in a few days or causes severe pain and swelling, you need to see a doctor. He or she may prescribe a cast and physical therapy.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is one of the most common causes of leg pain and one of the easiest to develop. It typically occurs when you’ve exercised too much and strained the muscle, though it can occur from any change or increase in any type of activity, from walking to working on DIY projects around the house. Once again, the RICE protocol is the best way to combat muscle strain, and it should go away in a few days. In addition to pain in the muscle, you may experience swelling; weakness in the leg, ankle or foot; or cramping in the muscle or the surrounding muscles. If these symptoms don’t subside within a few days, check with your doctor to make sure you didn’t tear the muscle.

Stress Fractures

It’s possible to break a bone in your leg, ankle or foot and not immediately notice. Sometimes a small crack develops in the bone, and in time, it can cause severe pain. This is most common in the feet, ankles and legs, usually in athletes who run or jump a lot along with members of the military. It’s also common in older people who suffer from osteoarthritis and other conditions that weaken the bones. A stress fracture often starts with a slight nagging pain in an area that eventually turns tender and could even swell. If you suspect you have a stress fracture, it’s best to see your doctor to determine the most effective treatment option. Treatments can range from simply resting the leg or ankle to surgery. If you don’t treat the stress fracture, it can heal improperly and cause long-term issues.