Feelings of heaviness or pain in the leg can have any of a number of causes. While most conditions that lead to leg pain and heaviness are rather common and temporary, some may be serious. As in most cases, chronic symptoms should be brought to the attention of a medical professional.
Probably the most common cause of leg pain is a muscle cramp. Leg muscles may cramp up when the body is dehydrated or deficient in potassium, sodium, calcium or magnesium. Diuretic and statin medications can also lead to cramping. Leg muscle cramping can sometimes be the result of fatigue or overuse, which can both lead to heaviness in the legs as well. Muscle cramps can be very painful but usually only last for a couple minutes at a time.
Leg pain and sometimes heaviness may be the result of injuries to the leg. Torn or overstretched muscles, hairline bone fractures, tendon inflammation (tendonitis) and shin splints are just some of the injuries that lead to leg discomfort.
Other Common Causes
Atherosclerosis can sometimes block the flow of blood through arteries, causing pain and dullness (called claudication) in the legs that is exacerbated during periods of strenuous activity. Arthritis and gout may both cause swelling in the legs, which in turn causes pain and heaviness. Bone and tissue infections are sometimes the culprits behind leg discomfort. Blood clots, nerve damage and varicose veins all also cause leg problems.
Less Common Causes
Femoral and tibial benign tumors or cysts are possible causes of leg heaviness and pain. Drugs, like allopurinol and corticosteroids may also sometimes cause leg problems. Other less common causes of leg pain and heaviness include malignant bone tumors, slipped disks in the back, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and slipped capital femoral epiphysis.
When heaviness is the primary symptom of leg problems, or of relatively high severity, the cause is usually a dysfunction of the vascular system. With vascular dysfunction, the legs become swollen and filled with excess fluids — they are actually heavier. Lymphedema is a vascular condition in which lymph vessels become obstructed or destroyed, keeping them from transporting fluids back to the heart; it is characterized by a swollen lump that usually forms on the top of the foot. Varicose veins, listed as a common cause, are caused themselves by vascular dysfunction. Chronic Venous Insufficiency is another form of vascular dysfunction that causes heaviness in the legs due to blood clotting within the veins.
First, keep yourself hydrated at all times. If you experience heaviness or pain (or both) in the legs, one of the first steps is to get off your feet — lie down and elevate your feet. Stretching and massaging your legs will help prevent and treat leg pain and heaviness. Over-the-counter pain medications and support hose or socks may also help. Call a doctor immediately if the pain or heaviness in your legs is accompanied by any of these symptoms: swollen or red legs, fever, leg pain increases with activity or exercise, blue and black or cold and pale legs or chronic symptoms.