the ER: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) may
be the culprit.
“DVT will often start small, as a clot in a
vein below your knee, but it can grow quickly,”
says Dr. Elliott Haut, director of the fellow-
ship program in acute care surgery at Johns
Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Once it moves up into your thigh, pieces can
break off and travel to your lung. This can
cause a condition called pulmonary embo-
lism, which can be fatal.”
DVT is most often caused by immobil-
ity—staying in bed after surgery, for example,
or on a long plane flight—in addition to con-
ditions such as cancer, or during pregnancy.
The most important thing to remember
about any form of leg pain? Trust your
instincts. If the discomfort you’re experiencing is sudden or new, prevents you from functioning normally or just doesn’t feel right,
never take a chance—play it safe, and talk to
your doctor ASAP. C
Lisa Mulcahy is an internationally established
health and multimedia writer.
Ways to feel better
ONCE YOUR DOCTOR determines the
cause of your leg pain, there are many
good treatment options.
• For sciatica patients, anti-inflammatory drugs and spine-strengthening
stretches can help. “Maintain your ideal
weight—it can really help back pain as a
whole,” recommends Murit Sharma of
Georgetown University Hospital.
• “Ice overextended muscles,” says
Gary Calabrese of the Cleveland Clinic.
“Also, drink at least a couple of 12-ounce
glasses of water 30 to 60 minutes before
your workout: Hydration will help your
muscles work better.”
• “Yoga can be very good for RLS
[restless leg syndrome] symptom relief—
it calms your system down,” says
Joseph E. Herrera of Mount Sinai
Hospital in New York City. “There’s also
evidence that some anti-Parkinson’s
drugs actually work, most likely because
they produce dopamine in the body.”
• “Compression stockings can help
prevent DVT [deep vein thrombosis],”
says Elliott Haut of Johns Hopkins
Hospital. “If you’ve had a DVT and
develop symptoms of pulmonary embolism like sudden shortness of breath, call
By Lisa Mulcahy
YOU WOKE UP with your lower calf killing
you. Should you be concerned?
Depending on its quality and location,
the leg pain you’re experiencing could be as
benign as exercise-related strain or as serious
as a life-threatening blood clot. A little
research about leg pain symptoms will help
you accurately explain your pain to your doctor, and get you the right care.
Sciatica is most often caused by a herniated disk or bone spur, which irritates the sciatic nerve in your lower back. The pain
follows a path, starting in your lower back,
heading down your hips and buttocks, then
finally radiating down one leg.
“Back pain is not subtle,” says Costco
member Murit Sharma, a board-certified
neurosurgeon at Georgetown University
Hospital in Washington, D.C. “It can feel
sharp, burning or excruciating. Seek immediate treatment if you develop weakness in your
legs, or if you have sudden loss of bowel or
bladder control, which can mean all the
nerves in your lower spine are compressed”—
damage that can lead to paralysis.
Cramps and muscle spasms
If you’re working out and suddenly experience an intense, cramping muscle spasm
that takes a few minutes to pass, most likely
you’ve had a charley horse.
“A charley horse, or many other kinds of
Restless leg syndrome
cramps you may experience during or after
exercise, occurs when you’ve done a little too
much, or the intensity was too high,” says
Gary Calabrese, director of rehabilitation and
sports therapy at the Cleveland Clinic in
Cleveland, Ohio. “The pain related to this
kind of healthy strain is actually a sign of pro-
gression: Your muscles are working, and will
repair themselves in about 24 to 36 hours.”
A sudden sharp pain that doesn’t clear
within a few minutes and doesn’t let you
complete an exercise warrants a call to the
doctor. “That could indicate a problem with
your Achilles [tendon], joint or bone,”
Pain that flares when you’re sitting or
lying down but gets better when you move
could be restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition that doctors suspect may be caused by an
imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine.
“We don’t really know its cause for sure;
RLS may also be related to iron deficiency
and diabetes,” says Joseph E. Herrera, assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
The pain often is an achy soreness, and
can be a creepy-crawly, tingling sensation.
RLS pain can also be described as burning,
itching or gnawing feelings in your calves,
thighs or feet.
You may also notice discomfort when
your body is stressed—say, when you’ve had a
little more caffeine than normal or you’ve
worked out late in the day. RLS is also possible
if several members of your family experience
the same symptoms; the condition is thought
to be hereditary.
Deep vein thrombosis
Is one of your legs swollen, red and pain-
ful, especially from the knee down? Go to
Identifying your leg pain
A leg to
The Costco Connection
Costco and Costco.com offer a variety of
therapeutic items, including prescriptions
from Costco pharmacies, hot and cold therapy, anti-inflammatories and more.