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February 13, 2012 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Periodically I will get excruciating pain up and down my right leg that takes forever to dissipate. What gives? YANAD, YANMD, etc. etc.

Every once and again while sitting on my couch my right leg will be seized with what can only be described as some of the most godawful pain I have ever experienced in my life (second only to my kidney stone at age 19). It feels like a muscle cramp - almost like a charlie horse, but not just in the calf - up and down the side of my leg (the outer side - the side that does not face the crotch, if that helps). The pain is most intense around the knee area, but it radiates both upwards and downwards. It hurts like a bitch, and renders me basically immobile - there is no way I can turn that alleviates the pain, nor can I bend the leg without causing more pain, nor can I walk. I basically just sit there and howl in pain. Sometimes it will feel like the pain has dissipated a bit, but then it will ramp up again - I guess this could be described as spasm-ing pain? This goes on for anywhere between 5-30 minutes. Eventually the pain will dissipate, and all I am left with is a general sense of weakness in the leg (I'll feel unsteady on my feet walking) for about an hour. Also, my toes will twitch for a few minutes once the pain is gone.

WTF is this? I am not kidding when I say it makes me howl in pain. It's embarrassing being a grown ass woman crying because her leg hurts for no reason. The only thing resembling a pattern I can identify is that it only happens (so far) when I have been sitting on my couch. It doesn't matter if I am sitting cross legged, or with my legs stretched out, or one leg folded beneath the other or one leg on the ground or whatever - my right leg will just randomly flip out like this.

Other possibly relevant information: I'm a female, mid/late 20s. I have a history of sciatica on my right side, but it hasn't flared up in nearly two years; most of that pain was in my hip/butt area, and this random spasm-y leg pain doesn't resemble the fairly steady nerve pain I was getting from the sciatica. (I at least could walk when the sciatica was acting up, even if I was a bit stiff/limpy.) I have always worked jobs that require me to sit at desks, and I had a craptastic work station at my last job whereby the chair was too low for the desktop even when adjusted to its highest level (I asked a question about this a while back if you look in my user history). I don't wear high heels often. I do a lot of walking during the day. I'm slightly heavier than I need or would like to be (I'd like to reduce by 20 pounds over the next year), but I am active - in addition to walking, I also swim 3 times a week and started Couch to 5K a couple of weeks ago. I haven't ever had any issues adjusting to excersize. I would say that I am in decent shape, working my way towards being in good shape.

I know you are not necessarily a doctor, and if you are you are certainly not my doctor, but seeing as I can't get an appointment with my actual doctor till Thursday, I wanted to see if anyone out there in Mefi-land might have a clue as to what this might be so I can be a bit more educated when I go to see my actual doctor. This doctor is a GP - should I ask him for a referral to an orthopedic doctor?

(Just a caveat there: The last time I saw an orthopedic doctor it was for the sciatica, and he was really unhelpful: he ordered x-rays, which of course showed nothing because it's nerve pain, and then he basically told me my problem was that I was a fatty and wrote me a prescription for the South Beach Diet. No, I am not kidding: he actually wrote the words "South Beach Diet" on a prescription pad and handed it to me. I wanted to shove it up his ass. I went back to my GP in tears and she wrote me a prescription for some anesthetic patches and muscle relaxants, and that more or less helped me manage the sciatica pain when it flared up. It's been two years since I've had any sciatica symptoms, though.)

Thoughts, anyone? Thanks.
posted by thereemix to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just, thought 1: You want a referral to a neurologist, not an orthopedist. The fields have some overlap, but a neurologist is more suited to help with nerve issues.
posted by brainmouse at 9:48 AM on February 13, 2012

It sounds a lot like a "herniated disc". There is likely something going on in your lower vertebra that is affecting the ganglion. The quickest way to tell is to go to emerg and tell them about your pain, and get an x-ray/cat scan.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:11 AM on February 13, 2012

I had the same thing a few years ago and my doc figured it was sciatica and had me get an EEG (Electroencephalogram) to test the nerves in my leg and hip. But before that test came back as inconclusive, I self diagnosed that the pain was triggered by certain shoes I was wearing that made the sciatica flare up. A cold snap got me out of some slides I had been living in (they looked like the old Dr Sholes sandals - no back or support) and into some gym shoes.

The difference in footwear was like night and day. Now I am careful to watch how long I wear shoes that make me stand or walk in a way that might not be best for my joints.
posted by readery at 10:15 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the pain would be worse when I sat or lay down after a day of wearing inappropriate shoes. Being verticle seemed to not trigger pain.
posted by readery at 10:17 AM on February 13, 2012

I think it's likely a lower spinal/nervous issue, as well.

Something additional to rule out would be a problem with the veins in your leg - clotting or otherwise circulatory. It's highly unlikely at your age. So, you should probably get the tests to rule it out quickly, and then you don't have to think about it after that.

Feel better!
posted by Citrus at 10:22 AM on February 13, 2012

NAD, so definitely NYD.

Sciatica sounds like a good place to start, but if that doesn't seem to be it you may also want to consider electrolyte imbalance. It can lead to pretty extreme muscle cramps left unchecked, most commonly due to low sodium or potassium. They tend to crop up mostly in patients with existing issues regulating electrolyte levels or after intensive exercise, but not always.
posted by vohk at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2012

My doctor told me that when a woman first goes on birth control, her stroke risk is elevated for the first three months or so. One of the symptoms is apparently really, really severe calf pain. So, if you started birth control recently (and if the pain started after you started birth control), please go to the doctor ASAP.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:55 AM on February 13, 2012

I'm not a doctor of medicine, but I had leg pain and it turned out to be a herniated L4/L5. This was diagnosed with a MRI (the disc is soft tissue so you can't really use an X-Ray/Cat scan). In the meantime, improving your sitting posture might help; a lot of people round their back out when they sit, and that puts a lot of pressure on your lower back. Other things that helped were sleeping in the foetal position and pelvic tilt exercises.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2012

IANYD but I have a history of spinal issues (3 spinal surgeries!) and severe nerve damage in my legs. I absolutely feel your pain!

I would consider going to see a neurologist and NOT an ortho. I have nothing against orthos, but in your case, you sound like you might be better served by an Neuro. Pain down your leg can be a symptom of herniation or other issues that a neurologist could assist with. An MRI can show if there is an issue and then you and your doctor can decide the next course of action.

For now, try not to sit too much, be gentle with your body. When you get that pain, try to breath and not tense, as much as possible.

Good luck!
posted by carmenghia at 11:18 AM on February 13, 2012

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