Leg Pain (cont.)
Self-Care at Home
Care at home depends upon the reason for the leg pain.
For sprains and strains, RICE is the initial recommendation: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) may be used for pain control. Over-the-counter medicines are usually safe to take but may interact with other prescription medications. Care providers or pharmacists are usually available for questions and advice.
Hamstring and calf injuries generally heal with the body's production of collagen fibers to build scar tissue in the area of muscle damage. Depending upon the severity of damage, it may take days to weeks to completely heal. The treatment of a strain is RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Once the initial phase of recovery begins, it is important that the muscle regain its length. Often, stretching exercises are used to help restore the hamstring muscles to their full length to allow full range of motion of the knee and leg. The decision as to when to start these exercises or to use other types of physical therapy is individualized for every patient and is often made by the care provider.
Crutches may be used in the first few days after injury to rest the leg. Elastic bandages (Ace wraps) may be applied to the thigh, beginning at the knee and moving upward to the hip joint to provide compression.
Ibuprofen may be suggested as an anti-inflammatory medication and for pain control. As with any over-the-counter medication, it is important to check with a pharmacist or health-care provider to make certain that it is safe to take ibuprofen in each specific case.
People with sciatic pain should consider a short period of bed rest (usually less than 24 hours) followed by activity as tolerated. Alternating ice and heat may be helpful; acetaminophen and ibuprofen may also be used. Chiropractic or physical therapy treatments may be of help. If the pain is associated with a change in bowel or bladder function, this may indicate cauda equina syndrome, in which the spinal cord is at risk of permanent damage, and emergency care should be accessed immediately.
For patients with chronic medical conditions, prevention is often the best treatment. The pain of neuropathy in people with diabetes is very hard to control; a lifetime of blood-sugar control minimizes the risk of this and other complications in later life.
Similarly, lifetime control of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes along with smoking avoidance will minimize the risk of peripheral vascular disease.
Most conditions that cause leg pain arise slowly, and home care should be individualized for each patient. Your care provider is an important resource for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
If acute pain with leg swelling or loss of feeling associated with a cold leg occurs, medical care should be accessed immediately.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2014
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