Minor leg injuries are common. Symptoms often develop from everyday wear and tear, overuse, or an injury. Leg injuries are most likely to occur during:
- Sports or recreational activities.
- Work-related tasks.
- Work or projects around the home.
Most leg injuries in children and teens occur during sports or play or from accidental falls. The risk for injury is higher in contact sports, such as wrestling, football, or soccer, and high-speed sports, such as biking, in-line skating, skiing, snowboarding, and skateboarding. Knees, ankles, and feet are the most affected body areas. Any injury occurring at the end of a long bone near a joint may injure the growth plate and needs to be checked by a doctor.
Older adults have a higher risk for injuries and fractures because they lose muscle mass and bone strength (osteoporosis) as they age. They also have more problems with vision and balance, which increases their risk for accidental injury.
Most minor injuries will heal on their own, and home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve symptoms and promote healing.
Acute (traumatic) injury
An acute injury may occur from a direct blow, a penetrating injury, a fall, or from twisting, jerking, jamming, or bending a limb abnormally. Pain may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Acute injuries usually require prompt medical evaluation and may include:
- Bruises (contusions), which occur when small blood vessels under the skin tear or rupture, often from a twist, bump, or fall. Blood leaks into tissues under the skin and causes a black-and-blue color that often turns colors, including purple, red, yellow, and green, as the bruise heals.
- Injuries to the tough, ropelike fibers (ligaments) that connect bone to bone and help stabilize joints (sprains).
- Injuries to the tough, ropelike fibers that connect muscle to bone (tendons), such as a ruptured Achilles tendon.
- Pulled muscles (strains), such as a hamstring strain.
- Muscle ruptures, such as gastrocnemius rupture.
- Broken bones (fractures). A break may occur when a bone is twisted, bent, jammed, struck directly, or used to brace against a fall. See a picture of a lower leg fracture.
- Pulling or pushing bones out of the normal relationship to the other bones that make up a joint (dislocations).
Overuse injuries occur when too much stress is placed on a joint or other tissue, often by "overdoing" an activity or doing the same activity repeatedly. Overuse injuries include:
- Inflammation of the sac of fluid that cushions and lubricates the bones (bursitis).
- Inflammation, tearing, or fraying of the tough, ropelike fibers that connect muscles to bones (tendinitis).
- Hairline cracks in bones (stress fractures). See a picture of fractures of the foot.
- Inflammation of the fibrous covering of the bone (periosteum) where muscle fibers attach to it (shin splints).
- Inflammation of the plantar fascia, a broad, flat ligament on the bottom of the foot (plantar fasciitis).
- Inflammation at the top of the shinbone (tibia) where the patellar tendon attaches to a bony prominence (Osgood-Schlatter disease). This is more likely to occur during rapid growth periods and is usually seen in athletic teenagers, especially those who play football, basketball, or soccer, and those who are involved with gymnastics and dance. Osgood-Schlatter disease involves both legs about 25% of the time and is rarely a chronic, lifelong condition.
Treatment for a leg injury may include rest, ice, elevation, and other first aid measures (such as the application of a brace, splint, or cast), or physical therapy. Some leg injuries are treated with medicine or surgery, especially if a bone is broken. Treatment depends on:
- The location, type, and severity of the injury.
- When the injury occurred.
- Your age, health condition, and activities, such as work, sports, or hobbies.
Review the Emergencies and Check Your Symptoms sections to determine if and when you need to see a health professional.