Leg pain at rest: 7 causes and what to do to relieve it

Leg pain at rest is a common condition of all ages. Fortunately, most of the causes have their respective treatment.

Last update: January 11, 2022

Leg pain is a common medical consultation reason worldwide. It can appear while people rest in bed or sofa, and even after physical activity. Are you interested in knowing what are the causes of leg pain at rest? Next we will tell you.

The legs are made up of a wide variety of muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. These are responsible for supporting the body and allowing movement. In this sense, leg pain at rest can be the result of damage or affection of any of these anatomical structures.

As usual, poor circulation, nerve compression, and varicose veins are common causes of discomfort in the lower limbs. In most cases, the ailments appear after several hours lying down or with the legs elevated. Early professional evaluation helps reduce symptoms progressively.

Causes of leg pain at rest

Leg pain at rest can be localized or extend throughout the entire limb. Often this starts as a cramp or a feeling of weight that increases in intensity over time. In addition, it is usually accompanied by other symptoms that facilitate the identification of the underlying disease.

1. Peripheral arterial disease

Impaired blood flow is one of the most common causes of leg pain at rest. In peripheral arterial disease there is an imbalance between the supply and demand of blood in the extremities. This condition is usually the result of narrowing of the blood vessels by fatty plaques.

People with vascular disease often have cramps in the calves and ankles when walking. In advanced cases, the pain intensifies and appears even when the legs are at rest. Other symptoms associated with blocked blood flow include the following:

  • Numbness and weakness in the legs.
  • Skin paleness and coldness.
  • Shiny and dry skin.
  • Thick yellow nails.

Similarly, pain can appear at any time of day, and even interrupt sleep. Studies affirm that this condition is more common in people between 40 and 60 years old, with a 6 times higher risk in smoking patients.

In cases of pain at rest of ischemic origin, it is advisable to let the feet dangle from the bed or take a few steps in the room to temporarily relieve the discomfort. Medical treatment includes the use of aspirin and clopidogrel, as well as surgical revascularization.

The prescription of aspirin for leg pain at rest is justified when an arterial problem is confirmed.

2. Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency is a disease characterized by difficulty of the veins returning blood from the legs to the heart. In most cases, venous dilation gives rise to varicose veins and discoloration of the skin.

The pain is usually intense and is accentuated when the person spends a lot of time sitting or standing. Similarly, patients often present with tingling, cramps, heaviness, and swelling of the feet and ankles. In chronic cases, there is a thickening of the skin and a tendency to ulcer formation.

Some studies recommend lying on your back with your legs elevated for 30 minutes to improve venous return and relieve pain. What’s more, immobilization situations of the lower limbs should be avoided or standing for long periods of time.

Conservative medical treatment includes the use of compression stockings and venotonic medications. Similarly, sclerotherapy and a surgical approach are options in advanced cases of venous insufficiency.

3. Muscle problems

The legs contain some of the largest and strongest muscles in the human body. They are subjected to great levels of stress when walking, running or exercising. For this reason, leg pain at rest is common as a result of muscle damage.

In most cases, the ailment is focused on a point on the leg and is aggravated by a movement. Intense physical activity usually leads to small lesions in the muscle mass that manifest as pain and inflammation. The discomfort usually appears at night or in the days after exercise.

Tenosynovitis, tendonitis, and myositis are other common causes of leg pain at rest. The application of cold compresses and the use of anti-inflammatory medications usually alleviate the discomfort. However, if the pain worsens or persists, professional attention should be sought.

4. Sciatic compression

Compression of the sciatic nerve usually causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the back, buttocks, and legs. In this sense, herniated disc, pelvic fracture, spinal stenosis and some tumors are frequent causes of this condition.

Pain can range from mild discomfort at rest to a severe twinge that makes movement difficult. It usually extends from the back, across the thigh, continuing to the calf and the sole of the foot. Also, muscle weakness in one or both legs is common.

Self-care measures include the application of hot and cold compresses, avoid lifting heavy objects and gradually resume physical activity. Similarly, physiotherapy and infiltration with analgesic drugs can alleviate the symptoms.

5. Joint problems

In some cases, leg pain at rest is the result of joint inflammation or arthritis. The discomfort is usually accompanied by stiffness of the affected joint and difficult to walk. Osteoarthritis is the most common form and is associated with the wear and tear of cartilage due to aging.

Similarly, gout and rheumatoid arthritis are joint problems characterized by pain, inflammation, and redness. In general, ongoing medical evaluation and prompt therapeutic follow-up greatly improve quality of life.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, and cold compresses can be helpful in relieving pain. What’s more, excessive physical exercise should be avoided or keeping the limb in one position for a long time. Physiotherapy is essential in the progressive recovery from the disease.

6. Bone growth

The growth of bones can cause discomfort in the legs of children and adolescents during their development. In most cases, it occurs in the thigh, calf, knee, and front of the leg. It affects 20% of children between the ages of 3 and 10.

The pain usually appears in the afternoon and its duration varies from 10 to 30 minutes. The episodes can come and go and come back after a couple of weeks. The application of warm compresses and massages with gel or cream in the affected area alleviate the discomfort.

Growing pains in children are considered normal. They appear intermittently in some stages of development.

7. Pregnancy

Leg pain at rest is a common symptom in pregnant women. This is the result of an increase in the mother’s blood volume due to the effect of high levels of estrogen and progesterone. In general, the discomfort is similar to that of people with venous insufficiency.

On the other hand, the increase in the size of the uterus from the second trimester of pregnancy can cause compression of the sciatic nerve. In addition, large vessels, such as the vena cava, can also be affected, resulting in inflammation and cramps in the lower limbs.

Doctors recommend spinal stretching exercises and lie on your back with your lower limbs elevated to relieve leg pain in pregnancy. The ailment and cramps disappear a couple of days after delivery.

When to seek medical attention for leg pain at rest?

Leg pain at rest can be caused by multiple conditions. In this sense, only health professionals are trained to identify the underlying cause and provide the most appropriate treatment. In addition, the early approach improves the prognosis of the people and reduces the long-term risk.

In case the pain increases in intensity or other symptoms appear, care should be sought immediately. Some warning signs include fever, inability to walk, and blackish skin.

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