Arthritis in the leg can cause pain anywhere from the top of the thigh to the ankle. It can develop as a result of various forms of arthritis, which cause inflammation.
Usually, arthritis affects the joints. Some arthritis-related conditions can also cause muscle pain, such as leg pain. Arthritis in the leg can develop as a result of joint pain, muscle pain, or both.
This article takes an in-depth look at arthritis in the legs, including types of arthritis, causes, and treatment.
Arthritis is more than just one specific condition. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types.
Several types of arthritis can occur in the legs. Arthritis that affects the hips, knees, or ankles can lead to leg pain. Certain forms of arthritis may also cause muscle pain anywhere in the body, including the legs.
Below are forms of arthritis that may affect the legs.
OA involves the gradual deterioration of cartilage in the joints. It can occur in the legs and commonly occurs in the knees.
It can affect almost any joint, including the hips and lower back, leading to leg pain.
Learn more about cartilage damage.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
RA is an autoimmune disease that affects various parts of the body, including the joints.
When a person has RA, the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body for unknown reasons, causing an inflammatory response.
Infectious (septic) arthritis
Infectious arthritis occurs when an infection from somewhere else in the body travels to a joint, leading to joint damage.
Any type of infection can cause infectious arthritis. It most often results from a bacterial infection.
Infectious arthritis can affect the legs since it most commonly occurs in the knees.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is an arthritis-related disease. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the condition involves inflammation of the bursae, which are sacs around the joints.
It can cause pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, hips, pelvis, and thighs, as well as the upper arms and sometimes the knees or hands.
The symptoms of arthritis in the legs may vary depending on the specific joint involved and the type of arthritis. Leg pain often occurs as a result of arthritis in the ankle, foot, knee, or hip.
Symptoms may include:
- pain in the legs
- swelling in the affected joint in the leg, such as the knee
Leg pain due to arthritis may feel mild to moderate or, for some, may be debilitating. Pain may occur anywhere in the leg, such as near the knee, hip, calf, or thigh.
Depending on the type of arthritis affecting the legs, a person may experience additional symptoms such as:
Arthritis pain in the legs can develop as a result of inflammation in the joints, tendons, or ligaments.
The leg muscles may become weak and painful as a result of trying to support the painful or inflamed affected joints.
Some individuals also develop leg pain from arthritis due to changes in the nerves. For instance, joint damage in the knees or hips may affect the nerves in the legs, leading to musculoskeletal pain.
Risk factors for leg arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis. According to the
- Injury: An injury to the joint can lead to OA.
- Infection: A bacterial infection may trigger infectious arthritis.
- Obesity: Extra weight may increase the stress on the joints and increase a person’s risk of developing certain types of arthritis.
- Sex: Being female increases the risk of certain forms of arthritis.
- Family history: Some forms of arthritis, including RA, appear to have a genetic link.
Doctors diagnose arthritis in the legs through a combination of symptom review, a physical exam, and imaging studies.
During a physical exam, the doctor checks for swelling and pain in the legs and checks a person’s range of motion.
Imaging tests, such as musculoskeletal ultrasound and MRI, provide pictures of the bones and surrounding areas. These can help healthcare professionals determine the type of arthritis present.
The exact treatment a doctor recommends may depend on the form of arthritis affecting the legs. For example, someone who has OA in the joints of the legs may receive different treatment than someone who has RA.
We explore possible treatment options, as recommended by the Arthritis Foundation, below.
Various types of medications may help decrease symptoms of arthritis, such as pain and inflammation.
Medications for arthritis symptoms include:
Physical therapy may help a person:
- improve their range of motion
- reduce stiffness
- maintain their fitness level
Doctors may recommend surgery for advanced cases of arthritis or when conservative treatments have failed.
Surgery may include a knee or hip replacement.
The following strategies may help a person manage arthritis symptoms:
- Wear proper footwear: Supportive shoes that fit well provide stability for the ankles and feet, which may help with leg pain.
- Maintain good posture: Maintaining proper posture while sitting, standing, and lying down keeps the joints of the body in good alignment. This promotes proper movement and reduces abnormal wear on the joints.
- Exercise: A 2019 study suggests that regular exercise may decrease arthritis pain by strengthening the muscles around the joints.
- Try to lose weight if needed: Losing weight can decrease the amount of stress on joints in the legs, including the knees.
Various complications can occur as a result of arthritis itself or as side effects of medication. Possible complications include:
- loss of strength
- poor balance
- decreased range of motion
- increased risk of falls
- reduced ability to carry out daily activities
A person should consult a doctor if they develop swelling, pain, or stiffness in the joints of their legs.
It is also important to speak with a healthcare professional if someone has unexplained muscle pain and stiffness.
Because many forms of arthritis exist, an accurate diagnosis is vital to ensure that a person receives the most appropriate treatment.
Arthritis in the legs can occur as a result of problems with the joints of the knees, hips, or feet. Various types of arthritis may affect the joints in the legs.
Treatment can reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Treatment options include medication and physical therapy.