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Leg Pain—When Should You Worry

Leg Pain—When Should You Worry

You’ve noticed one of your legs has been bothering you quite a bit lately. You’ve experienced early fatigue or cramping while on one of your typical walks. Or one of your feet has started to ache when you are lying in bed, keeping you from falling asleep or waking you during the night. What if you have a wound on your leg that just won’t heal? Should you be worried?

All of these issues can be signs of problems with your lower limb circulation, according to Joyce Lu, MD, a Washington Township Medical Foundation (WTMF) vascular surgeon. “When you experience unexpected or unusual pain in one or both of your legs, it’s important to have it checked out by your doctor,” she says.

Leg pain can be a symptom of a variety of circulatory problems, some of which ultimately can be life threatening, Dr. Lu explains. Many people experience normal muscle aches following exercise or strenuous activity that dissipates with rest or massage. “It’s the unexpected or unusual pain that should be checked,” she notes.

This includes developing leg pain when not doing any unusual activity, swelling in the legs, or fatigue after standing too long. A physician should also be consulted when you notice the pain is gradually getting worse, rather than going away with rest and localized treatment, such as heat, ice, or massage.

Leg pain can be the result of artery or vein (vascular) disease where the blood circulation is slowed or impeded because of narrowing arteries or faulty veins. The first step in checking for a cause of the pain usually is an ultrasound, which shows how the blood is flowing in the leg. That can sometimes be followed by a CT scan, which can visualize vessel narrowing and calcifications that have developed over time.

A variety of medical procedures can treat vascular issues. These include radiofrequency ablation to close down faulty veins. Vein stripping, a procedure that previously was common for varicose veins, has been replaced by more modern techniques, Dr. Lu explains. While vein disease is important to treat, arterial disease can be life and limb threatening. “Small wounds can turn in to large infections and procedures such as angioplasty and leg bypass surgeries have saved many of my patients from amputation,” she notes. “Any foot wounds that don’t improve within a week should be seen by a podiatrist and you may need a referral to a vascular surgeon.”

Leg pain is not always a function of aging and can occur at any age. However, among older adults, leg pain frequently occurs in people who have smoked or vaped in their lifetime (it’s the nicotine that is the cause). And, individuals with coronary artery disease likely already have peripheral artery disease in the lower limbs.

It’s important to seek treatment for ongoing or unexpected leg pain. Dr. Lu advises, “Persistent pain reduces the quality and enjoyment of one’s life and a simple trip to the doctor often can lead to resolving the cause of the pain through a variety of treatment options.”

To learn more about WTMF’s vascular surgery program, visit To learn more about Dr. Joyce Lu, visit