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What causes aching up & down your legs?

Updated February 21, 2019

Aching legs is a common symptom associated with a number of different medical conditions. Although elderly individuals complain of aching in the legs more often, individuals of any age can be affected. Factors to take into consideration when trying to find the cause for an aching sensation up and down the legs include whether you have suffered a recent injury to the legs, if the aching occurs in both or only one leg or if walking brings on the discomfort. Additional symptoms may include swelling, back pain and if the pain is intense enough to disrupt sleep.

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It is important to know what might be causing aching in the legs, as some medical conditions are more serious than others. Muscle cramps occur often, usually following an injury or overexertion due to a tiring physical activity. People who have varicose veins can have swollen legs that ache after being on their feet for several hours. Restless leg syndrome can cause a burning sensation in the legs at night. Sciatica caused by a herniated disk may cause a sharp, shooting pain down the back of the leg. Many times sciatica can also cause numbness or a tingling sensation in the lower leg or foot. Individuals with peripheral artery disease (PAD) can suffer pain with walking due to poor circulation in the legs. Another sign is that the leg may feel tired. Pain associated with vascular disease usually goes away with rest, but if it persists, it may be necessary to seek medical attention as blood flow in an artery in the leg could be blocked. Blockage generally occurs in the calf region of the leg. Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition that can be life-threatening if a blood clot dislodges and travels to the lungs. The leg may be swollen and feel warm to the touch.


Certain lifestyle habits are related to poor leg circulation that can lead to aching in the legs. Sitting for long periods of time, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking can all contribute to aching legs. Medical conditions associated with aching legs include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and pregnancy. Diuretics frequently prescribed for diabetics can deplete the levels of minerals such as potassium in the blood that may be causing leg cramps. Loss of potassium is often a side effect of medications. Nerve damage, which is a common complication among diabetics, can cause problems with the legs as well. Statins, medications used to lower cholesterol, can also cause muscle injury, resulting in leg pain by inhibiting the production of Coenzyme Q10. While there is no definitive answer as to why the legs may ache during pregnancy, drinking plenty of fluids, stretching and not standing for long periods of time throughout the day can help to ease the discomfort.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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