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Leg Problems, Noninjury (cont.)

Check Your Symptoms

Home Treatment

If your leg problem does not require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to help relieve pain, swelling, stiffness or muscle cramps.

  • Rest and protect a stiff or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.
  • Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
    • For the first 48 hours, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic beverages.
    • After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat and begin gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between heat and cold treatments.
  • Compression, or wrapping the sore area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, since this can cause more swelling below the area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to use a wrap for longer than 48 to 72 hours; a more serious problem may be present.
  • Elevate the area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.
  • Remove all ringsClick here to see an illustration., anklets, or any other jewelry that goes around an extremity. It will be harder to remove the jewelry after swelling develops.
  • Gently rub sore or pulled muscles to relieve pain. Do not rub or massage a calf that is swollen.
  • Stand and move your legs. Gentle motion may help with cramps that are brought on by exercise.

Drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will often help leg cramps. For more information about the home treatment of muscle cramps that are often caused by dehydration from exercise or heat, see the topic Dehydration.

If you think your child is having growing pains, try warmth and massage to relieve discomfort in the legs. Do not rub or massage a calf that is swollen.

For leg cramps, consider wearing support stockings during the day, and take frequent rest periods (with your feet up). If leg cramps occur during pregnancy, make sure you are eating a diet rich in calcium and magnesium. Talk with your doctor about taking a calcium supplement. He or she may recommend a calcium supplement that does not contain phosphorus.

Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a non-prescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a non-prescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all directions on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not take more than the recommended dose.
  • Do not take a medicine if you have had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • If you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take it.
  • If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.

Reduce stress on your leg (until you can get advice from your doctor):

  • Use a cane or crutch in the hand opposite your painful leg.
  • Use two crutches, keeping weight off your leg. Canes and crutches can be rented from most pharmacies. Crutches are recommended if a cane causes you to walk with a limp.

For more information about the home treatment of problems caused by varicose veins, see the topic Varicose Veins.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • You are unable to use your leg normally.
  • Pain or swelling develops.
  • Signs of infection develop.
  • Numbness; tingling; or cool, pale skin develops.
  • Symptoms become more frequent or more severe.
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