Leg Injuries and Disorders

Your legs are made up of bones, blood vessels, muscles, and other connective tissue.

Your legs are made up of bones, blood vessels, muscles, and other connective tissue. They are important for motion and standing. Playing sports, running, falling, or having an accident can damage your legs. Common leg injuries include sprains and strains, joint dislocations, and fractures.

These injuries can affect the entire leg, or just the foot, ankle, knee, or hip. Certain diseases also lead to leg problems. For example, knee osteoarthritis, common in older people, can cause pain and limited motion. Problems in your veins in your legs can lead to varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis.

Painless swelling may affect both legs and may include the calves or even the thighs. The effect of gravity makes the swelling most noticeable in the lower part of the body.

Foot, leg, and ankle swelling is common when the person also:

Is overweight
Has a blood clot in the leg
Is older
Has a leg infection
Has veins in the legs that cannot properly pump blood back to the heart

Injury or surgery involving the leg, ankle, or foot can also cause swelling. Swelling may also occur after pelvic surgery, especially for cancer.

Long airplane flights or car rides, as well as standing for long periods of time, often lead to some swelling in the feet and ankles.

Swelling may occur in women who take estrogen, or during parts of the menstrual cycle. Most women have some swelling during pregnancy. More severe swelling during pregnancy may be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition that includes high blood pressure and swelling.

Swollen legs may be a sign of heart failure, kidney failure, or liver failure. In these conditions, there is too much fluid in the body.

Certain medicines may also cause your legs to swell. Some of these are:

  • Antidepressants, including MAO inhibitors and tricyclics
  • Blood pressure medicines called calcium channel blockers
  • Hormones, such as estrogen (in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy) and testosterone
  • Steroids

Some tips that may help reduce swelling:

  • Put your legs on pillows to raise them above your heart while lying down.
  • Exercise your legs. This helps pump fluid from your legs back to your heart.
  • Follow a low-salt diet, which may reduce fluid buildup and swelling.
  • Wear support stockings (sold at most drugstores and medical supply stores).
  • When traveling, take breaks often to stand up and move around.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing or garters around your thighs.
  • Lose weight if you need to.

Never stop taking any medicines you think may be causing swelling without first talking to your health care provider.