Can Leg Pain Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

While leg pain can occur for many reasons, it may result from complications of untreated or undiagnosed diabetes. Leg pain that develops as a result of diabetes often comes in the form of nerve pain, called neuropathy, or from wounds, called diabetic ulcers.

This article will explore how diabetic neuropathy and diabetic ulcers lead to leg pain and other possible causes of leg pain in people with diabetes.

leg pain
Leg pain. Imagesbybarbara/Getty Images

What Is Leg Pain?

Leg pain can occur for many reasons. Often it is a result of an injury or a symptom of certain conditions.

Some common causes of leg pain are:

  • Muscle injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Vein disorders
  • Spine or neurological injuries

Leg pain that develops without a known injury or condition is a mystery. If you're not sure why you have leg pain, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about:

  • Other chronic medical problems
  • Your personal medical history
  • Previous surgeries
  • Medications you currently take
  • Your activity level

When Is Leg Pain Serious?

Leg pain can signal more serious problems, such as a blood clot that develops in the deep veins of your leg, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can cause severe illness and pulmonary embolism (a clot that travels to the main blood vessel leading to your lung).


Symptoms of DVT include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Bulging veins
  • Discoloration of the skin


You should seek immediate medical attention if you think you may have developed a blood clot in your leg.

Is Leg Pain a Symptom of Diabetes?

Diabetes is not usually a direct cause of leg pain, but leg pain and numbness or tingling from neuropathy can be a symptom of undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes.

Between 20% and 50% of people with diabetes experience painful nerve damage as a result of their condition. This nerve damage results from long-term high blood sugar, fat, and cholesterol levels. The exact neuropathy symptoms you experience will vary based on your specific type of diabetes and what complications you may develop.

The four major types of neuropathy are:

  • Peripheral neuropathy mainly affects the feet and legs.
  • Focal neuropathy generally affects specific, singular vessels.
  • Proximal neuropathy affects areas of the body closer to your core, like your hip or buttocks.
  • Autonomic neuropathy affects internal organs.

People with diabetes who develop neuropathy are also at a higher risk of developing injuries to their legs and feet due to a lack of sensation. When this happens, you may injure yourself without realizing it, and your decreased circulation could lead to the formation of poorly healing wounds called diabetic ulcers. If left untreated, 14% to 24% of these ulcers lead to amputation.

Treatments and Management of Leg Pain

The first step in treating your leg pain is to see your healthcare provider to determine the exact source of your pain. Injuries, neuropathy, and vein or artery diseases require unique treatments.

If diabetes is causing your leg pain, either from peripheral neuropathy or diabetic ulcers, the first step is controlling your blood sugar. To do this, your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications or injectable medications, such as insulin or non-insulin medications.

If getting your blood sugar under control isn't enough to reverse the nerve damage, your healthcare provider may suggest the following diabetic neuropathy treatments:

  • Antidepressants, such as Pamelor (nortriptyline) or Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Anticonvulsants, such as Lyrica (pregabalin) or Neurontin (gabapentin)
  • Skin creams or gels containing pain relievers, such as Xylocaine (lidocaine)

These medications may help to reduce your pain and discomfort, but they will not reverse the nerve damage causing the leg pain.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

If you've been diagnosed with diabetes, it's important to see your healthcare provider regularly to control your blood sugar levels and prevent diabetic complications.

You should always contact your healthcare provider if you develop new problems like leg pain or if you have slow-healing injuries or wounds that appear infected.

Summary

Many complications can develop as a result of uncontrolled diabetes, including diabetic ulcers and peripheral neuropathy. This type of nerve damage and injury can lead to pain in your legs.

If you're experiencing pain in your legs, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best way to manage your diabetes and prevent further complications.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetes can be a difficult condition to manage, but maintaining control over your blood sugar is the best way to prevent complications. If you're experiencing pain in your legs from associated nerve damage or diabetic ulcers, speak with your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does diabetes leg pain feel like?

    Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain most commonly described as numbness and tingling, similar to a pins-and-needles sensation. Other forms of diabetic leg pain, like pain from diabetic ulcers, may feel more acute depending on several factors like how severe they are and whether they are infected.

  • How can you relieve leg pain from diabetes?

    Most treatments for leg pain caused by diabetic neuropathy focus on relieving or reducing pain. They do not reverse or treat the nerve damage responsible for the pain.

  • Is leg pain a sign of type 2 diabetes?

    There are many causes of leg pain, and diabetes complications like peripheral neuropathy and diabetic ulcers are just a few of these causes. See your healthcare provider if you develop new or worsening leg pain that you can't explain.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Deep vein thrombosis.

  2. Sloan G, Shillo P, Selvarajah D, et al. A new look at painful diabetic neuropathyDiabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2018;144:177-191. doi:10.1016/j.diabres.2018.08.020

  3. National Institutes of Health. Diabetic neuropathy.

  4. University of Michigan Health. Frequently asked questions: diabetic foot ulcers.

  5. National Institutes of Health. Peripheral neuropathy.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.