Your legs are made up of joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. Even if you aren’t very active, your legs put in a lot of work every day!

Because of this, it’s common to have minor aches, pains, muscle cramps and other lower body discomforts, especially with age. That said, some leg pain can be a sign of something more serious such as a damaged vein or a vein or artery disease like deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot.)

Exactly why you should be aware of when your leg pain might be something more severe and consider including a vein health screening as part of your annual healthcare appointments.

In this article, we will discuss what leg pain is, what some sensations in your legs might mean, the most common minor and severe causes of leg pain when you should consider seeking medical attention, and how a vein health screening can help catch a vein or artery issue early.

What Is Leg Pain?

Leg pain is any type of discomfort in the leg, beginning at the hip joint down to your heels. Leg pain can be brief or ongoing, mild or debilitating, and can affect only parts of your or your entire leg, depending on how serious the injury or condition is.

If you were on your feet more than usual, slept wrong, or know you’ve sustained a minor leg or back injury, these pains might not be of concern. Even dehydration, cold temperatures, stress, and some medications can cause muscle cramps and leg pain.

However, if you are experiencing leg pain that won’t go away, is severe, worsens when you sit or stand, or is in conjunction with redness, tenderness, or swelling– it might be worth contacting your doctor for a vein health screening or even seeking emergency care.

Causes of Leg Pain That Aren’t Usually Due to a Serious Vein Issue

If your leg hurts, you may assume that you have a minor sprain or a pulled muscle or believe it is due to arthritis. That very well may be the case. But leg pain can also be the first sign of serious vascular conditions that can significantly impact your health.

We will explain what those more severe vascular conditions might be next. First, let’s go over some of the less severe reasons you might be experiencing leg pain in the lower legs or feet.

Leg Pain Unrelated to Veins

  • Muscle fatigue from overuse or exercise
  • Holding a muscle in the same position for too long
  • Joint pain and inflammation (due to lack of insulation from collagen loss)
  • Muscle strain or sprain
  • Torn tendons
  • Fracture
  • Sciatica
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Bursitis
  • Tendinitis or Tendinosis
  • Herniated disk
  • Shin splints
  • Dehydration
  • Medications (such as diuretics and statin)
  • Cold temperatures

As you can see, there are many reasons you might be experiencing leg pain that is not a vein or artery disease.

Before we discuss some of the more serious issues that could be causing your leg pain, let’s go over two other health issues that could be causing your leg pain that isn’t always serious but could be if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Mild Vein Issues that Cause Leg Pain

Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are a common cause of leg pain that isn’t always serious but could become an issue if left untreated. The milder version of them are known as spider veins, which are typically only cosmetic and rarely cause leg pain,

Varicose veins are different from spider veins. They are enlarged, twisted veins that often develop as you age. Circulation slows down in your veins, causing blood to pool in the vein, resulting in the veins appearing twisted and bulging.

Often, these veins become tender to the touch and can cause swelling in the lower legs, muscle cramping, itching, and pain after sitting or standing for an extended time.

Generally, varicose veins can be treated with non-invasive in-office procedures and at-home medications. However, they can occasionally lead to more severe problems, including blood clots.

If you notice spider veins or varicose veins, it is important that you see a vein health specialist as soon as possible so they can rule out a major vein disease and begin treatment while in its early stages. Click the button below to read more about varicose veins.


Diabetes is another condition that can cause leg pain. Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain commonly described as numbness and tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation.

How well your diabetes is managed through blood sugar control, weight management, and other preventative treatments will determine whether this pain should be of concern.

Causes Of Leg Pain That Might Indicate A Serious Vein Issue

While your leg pain might be nothing that should alarm you, it’s always best to take note of any other symptoms to ensure it is not the first sign of a more serious issue.

Here are a few more severe vein and artery conditions that can cause leg pain.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (Blood Clot)

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms inside a large vein, like the calf or thigh. In some instances, the clot can travel to the lungs or brain, causing a stroke or pulmonary embolism.

Symptoms of DVT in the leg might include pain described as feeling like a muscle cramp or as soreness., redness, tenderness, and swelling of the leg.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)

PAD or PVD are interchangeable names for any disease of the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. There are two major categories of PAD/PVD, but they all involve blockage or narrowing of the blood vessels.

Occlusive: Stems from a blockage of the blood vessels. Examples include: Atherosclerosis, Buerger’s disease, Carotid artery disease (also called carotid artery stenosis,) Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and Lymphedema.

Functional: When blood vessels “spasm” due to less serious factors such as stress, smoking, and cold temperatures. Examples include: Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), Raynaud’s disease, and Varicose veins.

The main symptoms of most PAD/PAV are leg pain, achiness, fatigue, burning, or discomfort in your feet, calves, or thighs.

You are at an increased risk for developing PAD if you are over 50, are a smoker or have a history of smoking, or have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or heart disease.

Here is a more in-depth description of the most common forms of PAD/PVD that might be causing your leg pain.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

As mentioned above, CVI is a form of Functional PAD. It occurs when the leg veins do not allow blood to travel back to the heart, causing blood in the legs to pool. If chronic venous insufficiency is left untreated, pain, swelling, and leg ulcers may result.


Lymphedema is one of the occlusive types of PAD mentioned above. It is when swelling due to a build-up of lymph fluid in the body occurs due to some sort of blockage in the lymphatic system or damage to the lymph nodes.

Lymphedema is usually caused by an injury, deep cuts or bruises, infection, or as a side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation. It presents as painful and uncomfortable swelling in the arms or legs.


Atherosclerosis is another type of Occlusive PAD. It is a type of hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls, often referred to as plaque.

When this accumulation occurs, it reduces blood flow to vital body organs and can cause arteries to narrow.  In more serious cases, the plaque can burst, leading to a blood clot.

This blocked blood flow can then trigger vascular leg pain. Other symptoms might include shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain or tightness when active, that usually goes away with rest.

Red Flags That Might Indicate Leg Pain Is A Vein Or Artery Issue

It can be difficult to determine if leg pain is vascular leg pain or another less serious pain.

However, there are a few telltale signs that the pain you are experiencing is due to one of the more serious issues above, especially if you are experiencing more than one of the symptoms listed below.

  • Mild or severe pain that occurs during activity and subsides soon after resting.
  • Sores on the toes, feet, or legs that are slow to heal or won’t heal at all.
  • The feet become very pale or blue in color.
  • Feeling old in one leg or foot but not the other.
  • Poor toenail growth.
  • Decreased hair growth on legs.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Leg pain that “radiates.”
  • Unexplained swelling and inflammation.

If you are experiencing leg pain in conjunction with any of the above, you should seek medical care.

Diagnose Vein Disease Early With a Vein Health Screening

The best approach is always a preventative one. It is advised that adults have a vein health screening yearly, and anytime leg pain is concerning. This is especially important if vein disease runs in your family.

That said, venous disease doesn’t discriminate. It can happen at any age, to both men and women, whether you have a history of vein issues or not.

While most people exhibit some symptoms, that isn’t always the case. Vein disease may affect you without you even knowing. That is exactly why vein health screening for early detection of venous disease should be part of your yearly preventative health care routine.

A vein health screening is quick and painless. During the screening, doctors will:

  • Ask questions about your medical history, medications, lifestyle, etc.
  • Perform an ultrasound scan to examine vein function and check for possible vein blockages.
  • Conduct a physical exam to check for visible signs of vein insufficiency and varicose or spider veins.

To learn more about your risk of vein disease, take our vein health quiz here, or give us a call at 615-271-9013.

When to Seek Medical Care for Leg Pain

You should seek immediate emergency medical care if you are experiencing inflammation, discoloration, skin ulceration, swelling of the calf, or have trouble breathing.

If you feel your leg pain is not an emergency but can’t seem to pinpoint what’s causing it, it is always best to be safe than sorry and make an appointment with a vein specialist like The Vein Centre for a vein health screening.

At The Vein Centre, our surgeons have over 100 years of combined vein expertise and are here to help you look and feel your best. Give us a call at 615-271-9013.