Pain in the Legs: When it’s Normal & When it’s Not
Pain in the legs is a common occurrence. We often feel pain in the legs when we walk long distances or stand for prolonged periods of time. Strenuous physical activities, such as jogging and running can also cause pain in the legs, especially if you are not accustomed to doing it daily. Our legs are the hardest working parts of our body, as they have to bear our entire weight and also absorb or put up with the impact caused by running and walking. So, all in all, pain in the legs after any prolonged physical activity involving the legs is quite common; on that we all can agree; but what about pain in the legs when we are sitting and sleeping and not using our legs? While this also may be normal in cases when you have had a long tiring day on your feet the whole time, but, however, pain in the legs while sitting or sleeping is a cause for concern as it can be an indication of an underlying medical condition in the body. Such type of pain in the legs usually involves the lower leg and especially the calf and also the feet. There are various medical conditions which can cause pain in the legs while sitting or sleeping, but the cause of it mostly has to do with the nerves and the blood circulation of the legs.
What are the Other Symptoms Which Occur Along With Pain in the Legs While Sitting and Sleeping?
- The skin over the legs is pale in appearance and there may even be a blue discoloration on the legs (cyanosis).
- Cramping in the legs, especially in the calf muscles and the foot muscles.
- There is darkening of the skin on the legs and this followed by or preceded by tingling and numbness of the legs.
- Open sores can be present on the legs.
What Can Cause Pain in the Legs with Sitting or Sleeping?
So, coming back to the million dollar question… what causes pain in the legs while sitting or sleeping; basically at rest? Most of the causes of leg pain while sleeping or sitting are the same as the causes for pain in the legs with walking.
To know whether these causes are serious or mild, treatable or untreatable, read on below the 7 Causes for Pain in the Legs with Sitting or Sleeping
Pain in the Legs With Sitting or Sleeping Caused by Weak Veins of the Legs
The veins of the legs transport the deoxygenated blood from the feet to the heart. It is more difficult for the leg veins to accomplish this task as they have to fight against gravity to reach the heart. The valves present in the leg veins allow slow upward blood circulation and the blood is also pushed by the feet muscles which act as a pump. If there is any weakening in the walls of the veins, then it causes distension of the vein resulting in failure of the valves to function as needed. This results in a condition known as varicose veins where the veins are visible on the skin’s surface resembling a spider’s web. This causes the patient to feel pain in the legs when standing, sitting and lying down with varicose veins. The pain in the legs from varicose veins tends to occur when the patient is stationary, either when sitting, standing or lying down for extended periods of time. This happens because the blood pools due to the weakened, distended veins and incompetent valves. Elevating the legs and moving about helps in easing the pain in the legs somewhat, as movement sets the blood flowing again.
Pain in the Legs Caused by Narrowed Arteries of the Legs
The arteries carry nutrients and oxygenated blood to the muscles, ligaments, joints, bones and skin. When there is narrowing of the arteries of the legs then this condition is known as peripheral arterial disease of the legs. Build up or accumulation of fatty plaques on the arterial wall is the commonest cause of peripheral arterial disease resulting in partial obstruction. This leads to decrease in the blood circulation to the legs. Gradually formation of a blood clot completely blocks the artery and cuts of the blood supply resulting in acute limb ischemia.
Pain in the legs, especially the calf muscles is a typical symptom of peripheral arterial disease of the legs and is termed as claudication. The patient initially feels leg pain only with physical activity when exercising, but as the condition worsens, pain in the legs can also be felt at rest, such as when sitting and sleeping. Hanging the leg over the side of the bed gives some patients relief in leg pain when sleeping. The gravitational force helps in directing the blood flow to the feet. It is important that patient seek medical treatment to restore the blood flow to the legs and to get relief from pain in the legs occurring with sitting or sleeping.
Pain in the Legs Caused by Blood Clot in the Legs
There can be formation of a blood clot in an artery as well as in the veins of the legs; however, the phenomenon of clot formation is more common in the deep veins of lower legs. This is usually a consequence of slow or sluggish circulation in the lower legs. This condition is termed as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The clot obstructs the drainage of blood from the legs (obviously); however, there are other alternative paths through which there can be some degree of drainage of the blood from the legs. The actual risk with deep vein thrombosis is dislodging of the thrombus, which is the blood clot, and travelling through the veins and then potentially blocking the blood vessels which travel from the heart to the lungs. This condition is known as pulmonary embolism and is a serious condition.
So, pain in the legs is the primary symptoms of deep vein thrombosis and some patients may not have other symptoms in DVT except for pain in the legs. About 50% of the patients with DVT will not experience any symptoms, even leg pain. While the remaining patients with DVT will have leg pain and may have other symptoms also. The leg pain in deep vein thrombosis is a cramp-like pain in nature which is felt in the calves. This condition is also known as charley horse. The leg pain can extend to the ankle or foot also. Patient can also have discoloration of the skin of the legs, which can range from paleness to redness and a bluish tinge of the skin. The pain in the legs in deep vein thrombosis can occur when the patient is at rest, such as sitting and sleeping and it can also occur when the patient is active. If the patient is sitting or sleeping for extended periods of time, then the risk of pulmonary embolism is more.
Pain in the Legs Caused by Diabetes (Diabetic Foot)
Pain in the legs is one of the frequently seen symptoms in patients with advanced diabetes mellitus. Leg pain in diabetes is an indication of complications occurring as a result of chronic and poorly controlled diabetes. In advanced diabetes mellitus, the blood supply to the leg gets affected along with the nerves of the leg. This condition is collectively termed as diabetic foot. Pain in the legs can occur with sitting, sleeping and when the patient is active and is one of the initial symptoms; however, as the complications from diabetes increases, patient starts having additional symptoms other than leg pain, such as numbness and tingling. Other than pain in the legs, patient can also develop diabetic ulcers on the lower legs and feet. Due to the impaired wound healing and numbness in diabetes, patient tends to suffer from more leg injuries and these injuries become infected more easily. There can also be complete obstruction of the blood supply to the legs leading to gangrene which requires amputation of the limb.
Pain in the Legs Caused by Nerve Problems in the Legs
There are many conditions which can damage or affect the nerves of the legs, such as vitamin deficiencies, injury and infectious causes (shingles). However, there is a common nerve problem which causes leg pain and which actually originates at the lower back, not the leg. This condition is sciatica, where there is inflammation of the sciatic nerve, a major nerve of the leg. In sciatica, there can be compression of sciatic nerve at the point where it exits from the spinal cord (pinched nerve). The sciatic nerve can also be compressed in someplace else along it course. These nerve problems collectively are known as peripheral neuropathy; the symptoms of which include pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness of the leg muscles including pain in the legs with sitting or sleeping.
Pain in the Legs During Growing Age
Pain in the legs occurring in children is thought to occur as a result of growing pains (after other causes have been excluded). Growing pain in the legs tends to occur in children between the ages of 3 to 12 years and commonly occurs in both the legs. Pain in the legs often occurs at night and can even disturb the sleep of the child. As of now, there is no conclusive evidence to support that growth spurts cause this pain in the legs. Instead growing pains in children are attributed to overuse of the leg muscles, as children are naturally more active than adults and tend to overexert themselves by playing etc., but notice the pain in the legs when they are resting.
Pain in the Legs Caused by Menopause
Leg pain during menopause has been reported by many women. Other than the pain in the legs, there may also be burning of the feet as a result of combination of vitamin deficiencies and hormonal factors. Pain in the legs and burning of the feet is usually worse at night when sleeping and it can be severe enough that the patient will have difficulties with her sleep. Additionally, patient may also have deep vein thrombosis and varicose veins along with menopause. The exact cause of leg pain during menopause is not clear; however, risk of serious causes of pain in the legs increases with age, so it is advisable that leg pain occurring during menopause be treated immediately.
Pain in the Legs with Sitting & Sleeping: CONCLUSION
So, from this article, it is painfully obvious (pun intended!) that there are various causes for pain in the legs occurring at rest. So, patients who suffer from this malady can rest in peace as most of the causes are not fatal and are easily treatable, so that you can put your feet up and relax and watch TV, read or sleep without the annoying pain in the legs disturbing your well deserved rest.
- Cleveland Clinic: “Leg Pain”: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17783-leg-pain
- Mayo Clinic: “Leg Pain”: https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/leg-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050784
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Deep Vein Thrombosis”: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis