Leg Problems

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Follow this chart for more information about pain and swelling in your legs.

SYMPTOMS DIAGNOSIS SELF-CARE
Begin Here

1. Do you have pain in your leg or ankle after a fall or injury?


No

Go to Question 5.*

Yes

2. Is there a deformity of your leg, or are you unable to stand or put pressure on your leg?


Yes

You may have BROKEN BONE such as the TIBIA or FIBULA in the lower leg.

EMERGENCY
See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. Apply ice to the affected area.

No

3. Did you hear a popping or grinding sound at the time of the injury?


Yes

You may have a SPRAINED ankle, but it's possible to break a bone of the lower leg and still be able to stand on it.

EMERGENCY
See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. Apply ice to the affected area.

No

4. Is there bruising or swelling of your calf or ankle?


Yes

You may have a partial or complete TEAR of the ACHILLES TENDON that attaches the calf muscle to the heel. This injury will cause pain and difficulty pointing the foot down. A TORN CALF MUSCLE will be painful and might produce bruises.

See your doctor as soon as possible.
Apply ice and use an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen. Avoid activities that cause pain.


No

A MUSCLE PULL or STRAIN will cause pain and stiffness in the calf muscle without any bruising or swelling.

Apply ice and use an anti-inflammatory medicine. Avoid activities that cause pain.


*5. Do you have pain or mild swelling in the front or inner part of your lower leg that may have started after physical activity such as running or jumping?


Yes

You may have SHIN SPLINTS, inflammation of the ligaments and other connective tissue along your TIBIA bone, or a STRESS FRACTURE, a tiny crack in the bone. These injuries are often caused by overuse during physical activity.

Get plenty of rest and avoid activities that cause pain. Use an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen and apply ice to the area. See your doctor if pain or swelling gets worse or doesn't get better.

No

6. Do you have pain, swelling, redness or warmth in your calf?


Yes

You may have DEEP VENOUS THROMBOSIS, a clot in the veins of the calf muscles, often caused by prolonged inactivity.

EMERGENCY
See your doctor or go to the emergency room right away. A blood clot in the legs could break away and block an artery in the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism.

No

7. Do you have twisted dark blue or purple veins near the surface of the skin of your calf, and do you have pain or cramping in your calf or leg that is worse after standing or sitting for a long time?


Yes

You may have VARICOSE VEINS, swollen veins caused by weak valves and vein walls.

Wear support stockings or hose. Alternate periods of standing with sitting. See your doctor if the varicose veins are very prominent, or if they become painful and red.

No

8. Do you have a tender red area or a red streak anywhere on your leg?


Yes

You may have an infection such as CELLULITIS (infection of the skin), LYMPHANGITIS (infection of the lymph channels leading to lymph nodes) or OSTEOMYELITIS (infection of the bone).

Apply mild heat and an antibiotic ointment. Call your doctor if you have a fever or if the red areas or pain get worse or do not go away.

No

9. Do your calves ache after walking, and is the pain relieved with rest?


Yes

The pain may be caused by CLAUDICATION caused by PERIPHERAL ARTERIAL DISEASE (PAD), narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to your leg muscles.

See your doctor as soon as possible.

No

10. Do you have swelling in both of your feet or lower legs?


Yes

You may have EDEMA, a build-up of fluids that may be caused from HEART FAILURE, KIDNEY DISEASE or blockage of blood returning to the heart.

See your doctor as soon as possible.

No

For more information, please talk to your doctor. If you think the problem is serious, call your doctor right away.

This tool has been reviewed by doctors and is for general educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. The information in this tool should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health. Always consult your family doctor with questions about your individual condition(s) and/or circumstances. Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Health & Medical Guide. Dallas: Word Publishing; 1996.

See complete list of charts.