The simultaneous occurrence of fever and leg pain often points to the presence of an infectious or autoimmune disorder. Infections of the leg skin, joints or bones frequently cause the abrupt onset of fever and pain. Gradually evolving pain with intermittent fevers provokes suspicion for a chronic condition. Accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of fever and leg pain, along with prompt treatment, minimizes the risk for complications.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep skin layers. Streptococcal and staphylococcal bacteria most commonly cause cellulitis. Although cellulitis can occur anywhere, the legs remain the most frequent site of infection. Symptoms include tenderness, swelling, skin redness, fever and chills. Factors that increase susceptibility to the development of cellulitis include diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, a preexisting wound, poor circulation, a weakened immune system and advancing age. Prompt antibiotic therapy helps prevent the spread of infection.
Infection of the joint fluid defines septic arthritis. The immune system response to the infection causes inflammation and provokes symptoms including pain, swelling, tenderness and joint stiffness. Flu-like symptoms, chills and fever also occur in most people with septic arthritis. Most cases of septic arthritis involve a single joint, with the knee most commonly affected. The hips are another common site of septic arthritis. The disorder may occur at any age but most frequently strikes those older than age 60.
Osteomyelitis is a bacterial or fungal bone infection. The disorder can occur at any age, but mostly frequently develops in early childhood or late adulthood. The most common sites for osteomyelitis include the spine, feet and the long bones of the arms and legs. Common symptoms include bone pain, fever, chills, and swelling and warmth over the infected bone. A limp may develop with osteomyelitis affecting a leg bone. Factors that increase the risk for osteomyelitis include diabetes, sickle cell disease, a weakened immune system, injection drug use and advancing age.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by immune system attack on the joint tissues. The inflammatory response provoked by the immune system causes progressive deterioration of joint structure and function. Rheumatoid arthritis frequently affects the knee, hip and shoulder joints in addition to the joints of the feet and hands. Typical symptoms include joint swelling, pain and stiffness. Intermittent low-grade fevers often occur with rheumatoid arthritis.
When To See a Doctor
Call your doctor right away if you develop a fever and leg pain. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice a spreading red rash, especially if accompanied by pain or swelling.
- Clinical Infectious Disease; David Schlossberg, M.D.
- Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases, 13th Edition; John H. Klippel, et al.
- Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice, 8th Edition; John Marx, et al.
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Osteomyelitis
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Rheumatoid Arthritis