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Leg Pain After Exercise: What Does It Mean?

It’s a common scenario: After pushing yourself to the max — or only a bit more than usual — in your last workout session, your legs feel sore, tender, and tired. Just as fit athletes are familiar with the feeling of achy legs after strenuous activity, beginner exercisers who are building their fitness also know what it’s like to experience sore legs after a routine workout.       

While most exercise-induced muscle aches are a mild, temporary nuisance that resolve on their own, severe or long-lasting leg pain should be regarded as a potential warning sign of a more serious underlying problem that warrants expert evaluation.  

At Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, our skilled team of vascular experts can help you get to the bottom of severe, activity-induced leg pain. Read on as board-certified nurse practitioner Eliza Codd explores the common causes of leg pain after exercise.  

Why do my legs hurt after exercise?

Having sore legs after a workout session can be perfectly normal — or it may be cause for concern. So, how can you tell the difference between routine activity-induced leg aches and the kind of atypical leg pain that signals a more serious problem? It’s all in the details. Let’s take a closer look at the four most common causes of exercise-related leg tenderness:  

Acute muscle soreness

Many people experience leg pain immediately following exercise, particularly after a tough or strenuous workout that aims to push them past their current limits and improve their fitness. 

 Known as acute muscle soreness, this form of activity-induced leg pain causes mild to moderate burning sensations in your leg muscles during and just after intense exercise. Caused by the rapid buildup of metabolites in your muscles as you work out, it usually disappears shortly after you cool down and end your activity.

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Leg pain that emerges 12 to 24 hours after a workout is often the product of a phenomenon called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Caused by microscopic tears in your muscles and the resulting inflammation, DOMS-related leg pain tends to peak one to three days after an intense workout, and then eases until it’s resolved. DOMS can cause:

 While almost any high-intensity workout can cause DOMS, one type of activity in particular — eccentric exercise — is a frequent trigger. Eccentric activity requires you to contract (tighten) and stretch (lengthen) a muscle at the same time; running downhill is an example of eccentric leg activity that can prompt DOMS in your legs. 

Chronic venous insufficiency 

Sometimes, leg pain after exercise is a symptom of a vascular/circulatory condition like chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or progressive leg vein damage that leads to fluid buildup, swelling, poor circulation, and varicose vein formation. Eventually, CVI can give rise to skin changes and open, slow-healing sores known as venous ulcers.  

Achy, tired legs after exercise can be an early warning sign of CVI, which can also make your legs feel full or heavy at rest. CVI may also cause burning, tingling, or “pins-and-needles” sensations in your legs at random times, and leg muscle cramping that wakes you at night. 

Intermittent claudication 

Activity-induced leg pain can also be a sign of intermittent vascular claudication, a classic early symptom of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is the progressive narrowing of peripheral blood vessels caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of sticky plaque in the vessels (veins and arteries) that carry blood to and from your extremities (arms and legs). 

 Intermittent claudication causes painful leg muscle cramping (usually in the calves) that’s triggered by activity and eased by rest. This cramping leg pain are the muscles’ way of telling your body it doesn’t have enough blood flow to meet the increased demands of movement. 

Other lower extremity PAD symptoms include a “pins-and-needles” feeling in your legs or feet, burning pain in your feet when resting, leg numbness or weakness, balance problems, and cooler skin temperature on your lower legs or feet. 

Schedule a leg pain evaluation today

If you’ve been experiencing severe or persistent leg pain after exercise, it’s time to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with our team at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic. If your symptoms indicate that your problem may be related to a circulatory condition, we can take a closer look at your leg vessels with noninvasive vascular ultrasound imaging. 

Getting to the bottom of your leg pain problem is the first step in protecting your health and helping you stay active. To learn more, call our office in Shenandoah, Texas, today, or use our easy online booking feature to schedule an appointment any time. 


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