Lower extremity pain is commonly due to overuse and inflammation as a result of conditions that affect bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and other organs. The key to pain is understanding what causes it. Only physicians can truly diagnose this kind of pain. There are a few questions to ask when diagnosing pain in your legs, hips, thighs, ankles, and lower joints. 

  • Is there a recent trauma? Falls to the ground are a common cause for lower extremity pain. This is especially true when a patient is unable to recall periods of time or suffers from a drug withdrawal. There is a chance of fracture, so radiographs should be taken. 
  • Is the pain articular or non-articular? Articular pain (meaning joint pain) is often accompanied by inflammation or swelling. Non-articular pain is musculoskeletal pain and affects muscles and bones. These differentiating symptoms help physicians diagnose the potential source of the pain. 
  • What is the root of the pain? When determining and understanding the root of the pain, physicians consider a broad variety of symptoms and characteristics regarding your pain. Things like infection, inflammation, vascular, and neoplastic causes can disguise other sources of pain. 

Being able to answer those questions helps pain doctors diagnose pain and recommend effective treatments for lower extremities. The term “lower extremities” includes the pelvis and hip joint, thigh, knee, lower leg, ankle, and feet. 

Types of Lower Extremity Pain

Ankle

Because your ankle bears the weight of your entire body, it is prone to injury. The ankle is a complex network of bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This means there are a lot of things that can cause pain. 

Ankle pain can be caused by a number of conditions, including, but not limited to: 

  • Achillies tendonitis
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Plantar Fasciitis 
  • Sprained Ankle
  • Stress Fractures

Thigh 

Pain in your thigh commonly starts in nerves that surround the hip and radiate down. Muscle pain, nerve pain, and injuries are all factors to consider when looking at thigh pain. 

Pain may be caused by:

  • Bernhardt-Roth syndrome
  • Overuse
  • Sciatica
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Sprained or torn ligament
  • Blood clots

Foot

Foot pain can be caused by overuse and conditions that cause inflammation like injury to tendons or ligaments in the foot. Arthritis is a common cause of foot pain. The bottom of the foot has a network of nerves that when damaged, cause immense burning sensations, numbness, or tingling. 

Common causes of foot pain include: 

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Mortnon’s Neuroma
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Gout
  • Diabetic Neuropathy
  • Tendonitis

Lower Leg

Leg pain can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and injuries. Generally, the leg pain is a cause of tissue inflammation. This can be a result of injury or chronic diseases. The leg contains many different types of tissues and bone structures, making injury and pain very common. 

Leg pain can be caused by: 

  • Shin Splints
  • Stress Fractures
  • Diabetic Neuropathy
  • Peripheral Artery Disease
  • Sciatica
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis

Hip and Pelvis

Hip and pelvis pain can be difficult to diagnose. The movement of the hip joint, lower back, and leg bones are all connected by a large network of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. Pain from another area of the body frequently causes pain in the hip and pelvis region. This is called referred pain. 

Sources of pain can include:

  • Bone Fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve Damage
  • Muscle Injury or Inflammation

Knee Joint

If you use your knees to repetitively kneel or lift heavy objects, you may experience knee pain. Knee pain affects people of all ages. Injuries are common and regularly affect the ligaments, tendons, or fluid-filled sacs that surround the bone. Cartilage in the knee also gets damaged from normal wear and tear, which can cause pain. 

Common causes for pain include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Meniscal Injuries
  • Cysts
  • Gout
  • ACL tears
  • Bursitis

Treatment Options

Once a diagnosis has been made, your physician will create a treatment plan specific to your pain. If the cause is musculoskeletal, non-steroidal medications or acetaminophen may be used. If pain persists, stronger medications may be prescribed, although it is rare that narcotics are needed. 

If the pain is articular pain, corticosteroid injections may be used to reduce pain. Muscle and tendon pain can be reduced using physical therapy. However, if the muscle pain is due to arthritis, physical therapy may not be helpful. 

Your doctor will work with you to form an effective treatment plan that fits your lifestyle and provides the greatest success in restoring a higher quality of life.

Sources:

MayoClinic: Knee Pain 

Intermountain Healthcare: Hip and Leg Pain

The ACPA: Vascular Pain

Cancer Therapy Advisor: Lower Extremity Joint Pain

 

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