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Leg Weakness: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Published on 14th February 2023
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Leg weakness is a condition that may have a benign cause, like over-exercising, or it may be a symptom of a disease or an underlying health issue.
Leg Weakness: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
  1. What are Weak Leg Symptoms?
  2. Causes of Leg Weakness
  3. Treatments for Leg Weakness
  4. Make an Appointment with a Doctor for Evaluation

Leg weakness is a condition that may have a benign cause, like over-exercising, or it may be a symptom of a disease or an underlying health issue. You may notice you are losing leg strength over time, or there might be a sudden weakness in the legs. There are numerous causes of people losing strength in their legs. Unless there is rapid recovery or no apparent reason for losing leg strength, it is important to see a doctor for testing and diagnosis.

What are Weak Leg Symptoms?

It may seem evident at first glance that weak leg symptoms are mostly a feeling the leg is giving out while walking. However, it is not that simple. Many times, weak legs are accompanied by other symptoms besides sudden muscle weakness in the legs. Following is a list of some of the symptoms that are frequently experienced with general leg weakness.

  • Muscle pain in the legs
  • Reduced muscle strength in the legs
  • Stiffness in the leg muscles
  • Muscle spasms
  • Leg cramps
  • Lower back pain
  • Legs feel “heavy”
  • Leg numbness
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Knees buckle
  • Balance issues making walking unstable
  • Shakiness in the legs
  • Tingling feeling in the legs
  • Difficulty lifting the leg or foot
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty standing

Leg weakness can occur in one or both legs. It can happen suddenly, randomly or become an ongoing issue.

Causes of Leg Weakness

There are numerous causes of leg weakness, ranging from over-exertion to serious medical conditions like a stroke or disease. If the leg weakness is due to a stroke, there are usually other symptoms like facial drooping, lack of mental awareness and slurred speech.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is called a mini-stroke and could be a forewarning of a stroke. The TIA happens quickly as a blood clot in the brain blocks blood flow and then rapidly dissolves. It can lead to paralysis on one side, slurred speech, numbness, weakness and paralysis. It is imperative to get medical assistance immediately because the earlier treatment is delivered, the more likely the person will recover.

Most cases of leg weakness are due to something other than a stroke or TIA, but you still need to see a doctor if any leg weakness develops suddenly or over time. Following are some of the common causes of leg weakness.

  1. Sciatica

When you have sciatica, there is compression of the sciatic nerve at some point. The sciatic nerve extends from the lower spine and separates to extend down each leg further. The nerve compression can lead to legs that are painful and weak.

  1. Medications

Some medications can lead to losing strength in the legs due to muscle weakness. Corticosteroids and statins are known to have these side effects.

  1. Spine conditions

Various medical issues can develop in the spine and lead to losing strength in the legs. They include a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, arthritis and degenerative disc disease. These medical conditions can lead to loss of leg strength, but other symptoms usually develop too. For example, you may develop back pain from nerve damage, pain that radiates to other body areas, numb legs, or a tingling feeling due to nerve issues.

  1. Alcohol use disorder 

Excessive alcohol drinking, especially binge drinking, can lead to myopathy, which is skeletal muscle dysfunction. Muscle disease due to alcohol is five times more common than cirrhosis of the liver.

  1. Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the peripheral nervous system experiences nerve damage. It can develop due to an infection, injury or a disease like diabetes. Diabetes can have neuropathy symptoms or no neuropathy. If it is symptomatic, the lower leg muscles are weak. Leg pain and weakness causing difficulty walking is one symptom. There may be shooting pain, numbness starting in the feet and hands or a freezing or burning feeling.

  1. Neuromuscular diseases

Muscle weakness in the legs may indicate a neuromuscular disease is present. These diseases lead to a loss of functioning in nerves and muscles throughout the body. They include muscular dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), myasthenia gravis and fibromyalgia. These diseases cause several symptoms, including losing strength in the legs, muscle twitching and muscle stiffness.

  1. Toxins

Exposure to environmental toxins or cleaning and pest control products can lead to toxic neuropathy. Nerve pain is felt in the legs and feet or the arms and hands.

  1. Injuries

An injury from a fall or vehicle accident can lead to losing strength in the legs. For example, a torn meniscus in the knee can impede knee functioning. Torn ligaments, broken knee bones, or trapped cartilage can cause your legs to give out due to knee trauma.

  1. Arthritis

Arthritis can lead to knee joint disintegration. When the knee joint is unstable, it often leads to losing strength in the legs. The knee joint may be painful, but losing a stable knee structure can also lead to shooting pain in the legs and down to the feet. Recent research has found that some people are more likely to develop muscle weakness as they age due to biological factors.

  1. Thyroid Conditions

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause muscle weakness or joint and muscle pain.

  1. Infections 

Bacteria or viruses can cause severe damage if left untreated. The damage may be to the spinal cord, brain or nerves and cause leg weakness.

If the sudden leg weakness does not regularly happen and is likely associated with over-exertion or vigorous exercise, home treatments like applying hot or cold packs or taking an NSAID can help your body recover. One indication that it is not a serious problem is when you recover quickly.

Treatments for Leg Weakness

The best treatment, of course, depends on a doctor’s diagnosis. There are a host of treatment options.

  • Guided steroid injections into the spine or knee joints to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications like over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for mild pain and prescription medications for diseases or other underlying causes
  • Back brace support until an injury heals
  • Exercises to strengthen lower back and leg muscles
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery when conservative treatments do not help

A doctor will perform various medical tests to pinpoint the reason for the weak legs symptoms.

Physical therapy as a treatment for leg weakness

Make an Appointment with a Doctor for Evaluation

Sudden leg weakness is a symptom, and you want to know what is causing the symptom. Since so many causes are related to a spinal condition, you can make an appointment with a spine specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis tests include a physical examination, blood tests, motor testing, neurologic exam, MRI, X-rays, myelogram and CAT scan.



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